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How do you deal with abusive fans?

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There were a couple of unsavoury crowd incidents last weekend in the Premiership. They’ve rightly received a lot of attention, which has a lot to do with how rare this kind of behaviour has been in the top league over the last few years.

Every ground is kitted out width a multitude of cameras and individuals must be aware the probability is they’ll be picked out. The idiot who threw a coin during the Villa-Portsmouth game may have been aiming for Harry Redknapp but ended up hitting the linesman (demonstrating why he’s watching rather than playing professional sport). It’s only a matter of time before the authorities catch up with him and he’s banned for life from watching his team. It’s difficult to get into the mindset of someone like that.

The English game has done a lot to restrict such individual incidents with a zero tolerance policy. It’s a lot more difficult to police the behaviour of a larger number of fans. I heard an Arsenal fan on a radio phone-in show telling how he had been hit by a missile intended for an Everton fan thrown by one of his own team’s supporters. Apparently a few hundred fans on either side were then involved in further trouble. This follows a couple of weeks after thousands of Spurs fans hurled homophobic abuse at Sol Campbell at Fratton Park.

No-one’s saying there can’t be any banter at football grounds but the Premier League knows it must crack down hard on unacceptable behaviour before it becomes a more regular and less shocking event. Anyone throwing objects, whether they hit someone or not, should be banned from all matches.

It’s more difficult to legislate against thousands of fans shouting homophobic insults but the authorities have done an outstanding job eradicating racism and now must make a decision on how seriously they take other forms of discrimination. The fans also have a part to play and need to start taking responsibility for their own actions – it’s a fine line between banter and abuse.

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