'Perhaps if fans were seen brandishing bottles of Evian water this would project a misleading image of Crystal Palace as a club for effete health-conscious muesli-eaters.'
It is amazing what you cannot do at a football match these days. These are just some of the things I am forbidden to do at Selhurst Park.
According to the ground regulations, a range of specified items, which might be used as weapons, cannot be taken into the stadium. Tools, knives, darts, fireworks and glass bottles are banned as you might expect. So too, I was surprised to learn, are old-fashioned rattles.
And just in case you wanted to recreate that authentic European cup-tie atmosphere, forget it. Flares, large flags, air horns and musical instruments are also prohibited.
According to a helpful notice next to the turnstiles, you can’t take plastic bottles inside the ground, either. Why? Perhaps if fans were seen openly brandishing bottles of Evian water this would project a misleading image of Crystal Palace as a club for effete health-conscious muesli-eaters.
The list of prescribed weapons seems riddled with contradictions. If Blue Peter has taught us anything, it is surely that almost any household object can be converted into a makeshift weapon. Why are bottles and cans outlawed, but not false teeth, glass eyes or prosthetic limbs – flagrantly smuggled into the stadium by elderly and disabled fans? Where’s the consistency?
A woman’s handbag is a veritable armoury – as England’s Ashley Cole discovered when he was felled by a flying lipstick case hurled by Albanian fans during the recent World Cup qualifier. There is a danger that the UK government’s drive to attract more women to football will lead to a surge in these cosmetic missile attacks.
Once you’ve got into the ground you are continually reminded about what is forbidden. During the half-time interval the PA announcer now routinely informs us that it is an offence to drink alcohol within view of the pitch. What irks me is that there is nothing to stop dreadful football being played within view of the crowd.
If you ever fantasised about streaking or running on to a football pitch to celebrate a victory, you are starting to think like a hooligan. The Football Offences Act 1991 makes it a crime to run on to the pitch.
During the FA Cup tie against Sunderland on 17 January 2001, Nicholas Gale ran on to the pitch when Palace scored a last minute equaliser. He assaulted nobody and damaged no property. He simply danced around, waved his arms in the air, and ran off again. Yet he was banned from all British football matches for three years. Although Gale appealed, the three-year domestic banning order was confirmed by Croydon Crown Court. Laws which make hooligans of fans who simply want to celebrate a goal should be scrapped.
Persistent standing is also prohibited. A few weeks ago, Palace chairman Simon Jordan broadcast an appeal to fans, over the giant TV screen, urging them to stay seated throughout the game. Croydon Council has threatened to withdraw the safety licence for sections of the Holmesdale stand.
And even though the team itself is doing its level best to minimise any on-field excitement, some reckless fans persist in standing – despite police warnings of ‘a serious risk of lower limb injuries if people fall forward’.
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