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Take a firm stand, please PSL

Whether it is the so-called European 'yobbos' or a South African football fan, hooliganism can never be condoned, no matter what form it takes or where it occurs.

Loftus Versfeld_wikimedia
Photo: Wikimedia, NJR ZA

The ugly face of our football again reared its face at Loftus Versveld this weekend when a portion of Orlando Pirates fans (between 100 and 150), fed up with the severe beating their team was taking at the hands of the well-drilled Mamelodi Sundowns in an Absa Premiership clash, broke through the barricades and stormed the pitch.

Thankfully due to swift intervention of medical staff, there were no fatalities and police intervention to disperse the increasingly unruly crowd restored order and the match was completed. So a big thumbs-up to the Venue Operations Centre and Match Commissioner for not allowing the situation to become potentially more flammable by abandoning the match.

It is now in the hands of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) Disciplinary Committee to rule on the matter once the dust has settled. They are awaiting reports from various stakeholders on what went down before making a decision.

But the emphasis after all this should remain on the word 'portion' in the second paragraph above and we should be very careful not to paint all Pirates fans with the same brush.

According to the SAPS there were no arrests made even although culprits were clearly identifiable via television footage, but a case of public violence and malicious damage to property had been opened.

Without apportioning blame -- which a thorough investigation will hopefully reveal -- one has to probably understand that the SAPS who fired teargas and deployed an Nyala riot control vehicle in the stadium, had a primary duty to disperse the crowd and restore order.

The PSL and clubs all provide security for matches under their watch, but clearly that continues to be inadequate. There are no moats at Loftus and only a perimeter fence between the fans and the field.

The fact that the angry mob managed to break down fencing, overwhelm the stadium security and storm the field is a cause for concern.

Thankfully there have been great advances in stadium VOC management, security, ticketing and stadium capacities since April 2001 when 43 fans were crushed to death at a Chiefs-Pirates derby and the highly publicized Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which claimed 96 lives.

It is for that very reason that perimeter fencing around the field was done away with and thankfully on this occasion, no lives were lost. Property can be replaced, but not a lost life.

This was the second time this season already that the Buccaneers had conceded half a dozen goals. They were hammered 6-1 by title-chasing SuperSport United last year, which led to the immediate resignation of head coach Muhsin Ertugral, who has since not been replaced.

An assessment of the extent of the damage to stadium property as well as television equipment is set to be conducted on Monday to put a financial cost to the chaos.

Although Mamelodi Sundowns are the lessees of the stadium in this instance, it is Orlando Pirates that should be held solely responsible for any financial compensation due and damage caused.

Once again there are fears that the Soweto giants may just escape with what accounts to a rap on the knuckles or a suspended fine, but surely the PSL DC, which is assumed to be totally impartial and made up of astute legal minds, should now put their foot down and make a bold statement regarding hooliganism in matches under their watch.

There is also a massive hurdle before the committee in that the Pirates Chairman just happens to be the Chairman of the League as well, which potentially complicates matters and dare I even suggest, might compromise the partiality of the DC or the severity of any monetary fine.

There are numerous other options also available, like ordering the offending club to play a number of games behind closed doors, which has become a trend across the world.

Investigative techniques in Europe and elsewhere allow for clubs and leagues to punish individual trouble makers by banning them from stadiums, but we have not got that far yet. 

The behaviour of a small minority of drunk, angry soccer fans is not unique to our game. It is a worldwide problem and often a societal problem.

Aside from being big enough to accept any punishment meted out to them, Pirates must address the underlying problems causing their alarming dip in form and the apparent discord in the ranks. The blame does not lie on the door of the players.

While the fans' anger should never have been vented in the way it was and any form of violent behaviour cannot be condoned, perhaps club Chairman (and PSL Chairman) Dr Irvin Khoza owes the Pirates supporters an apology and some kind of explanation why he hasn't appointed a fulltime coach yet. 

In the interim - over to you PSL. Show your steel and take a solid stand to stamp out football hooliganism. 

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