Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Didier Drogba was wrong, but blame the fan

Chelsea striker deserves to be punished but whoever threw coin at Stamford Bridge is real villain of the piece

All the talk is about how long Didier Drogba's ban should be and that's taking the focus away from the person who started the whole thing - the fan who threw the coin at him.

There's no doubt Drogba was irresponsible and deserves to be punished by the FA, though not in my opinion the police. But it would be ridiculous if he paid a heavier penalty than David Norris, the Ipswich Town player who made the “handcuffs” sign in support of Luke McCormick, the goalkeeper who was sent to prison for causing the deaths of two kids in a car accident. That idiotic gesture must have been premeditated on some level while Drogba's was spontaneous. To me, Norris's behaviour was worse.

Incidents of players abusing fans, as the Chelsea striker did, are very rare while week in, week out, footballers are on the receiving end of disgusting abuse. It's human nature that occasionally some will crack. I certainly did a couple of times in my playing days. When Eric Cantona karate-kicked that Crystal Palace fan, a lot of players thought: “Good on you, Eric.” No player runs on to the pitch planning to start trouble with supporters, but at every game a percentage of fans turn up intending to dish out verbal abuse or worse.

In my Millwall days in the 1980s, I remember warming up at Upton Park and fans in the Chicken Run terrace were calling out my name for ages until I finally looked round - and 30 of them chorused “w***er”. Apparently they used to do it to someone every week, like it was their hobby. Grown men.

During a game at The Den, David Byrne, our winger, told a Millwall fan who was running along the terrace and giving him stick to “f*** off”. The fan took out a knife and said he was going to “do him” after the match. David went as white as a ghost.

Footballers don't worry about security arrangements at stadiums, but deep down they know that if a fan really wants to invade the pitch and get at them, he will. It is a shame that Aston Villa were not able to catch the supporter who threw a coin at Harry Redknapp last month and hit an assistant referee. A heavy punishment for that might have made the Burnley supporter think twice.

Drogba is not a popular player. He's done and said some daft things, but he wasn't trying to wind up the Burnley fans - he scored and in the adrenalin rush that followed he probably didn't realise where he was celebrating. He's got a big ego, so he's not the kind of character to laugh off having something chucked at him, spoiling his moment of glory. He reacted because he felt insulted.

Drogba must be held accountable, but he's not the main villain here. Stop fans abusing players and you stop the problem of players being pushed past breaking point.

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