The genius of the football missile thrower
Yes, throwing things at players can be dangerous. But, at its best, it’s an art.
Queens Park Rangers have promised to take a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to the fans who threw missiles at Chelsea players in the west London derby last Saturday. As Chelsea players celebrated their eighty-eighth-minute winner, QPR’s fans hurled a range of objects, including coins and plastic bottles. Branislav Ivanovic was struck by a cigarette lighter. Throwing missiles at a football match isn’t big or clever, is it? Of course not. In general, missile throwing is stupid and dangerous. But – whisper it – sometimes you can’t help but admire the wit or the ingenuity of the missile throwers.
The incident at Loftus Road is the latest in a spate of missile throwing at Premier League games. Stewards at Selhurst Park are now kitted out with bodycams after two recent incidents of coin-throwing by Crystal Palace fans. On Easter Monday, a Crystal Palace player, Jason Puncheon, was on the receiving end. The Palace forward was struck by what appeared to be a raspberry MAOMAM sweet, hurled by an angry Manchester City fan as Puncheon prepared to take a corner. I suppose that, technically, a flying chewy sweet could ‘have someone’s eye out’. But I was struck by the unusual missile selection. I reckon you can always judge football fans by their choice of missile. So, what does the use of a retro 1970s children’s sweet tell us about Manchester City fans. Infantile? Prone to tooth decay? The fact that this was a sweet rather than a prawn sandwich seems to signify that gentrification hasn’t yet infected the City support.
Contrast the MAOMAM incident with the arrest of a spectator at the Emirates stadium in November during Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester United. As the United players celebrated their team’s opening goal, an irate Arsenal fan threw red wine at the visiting dug-out. That’s right, red wine. This isn’t your bog-standard projectile. It was a gourmet missile, and this speaks volumes about the rampant gentrification at the Emirates. It’s also an uncanny echo of a very prescient Fast Show sketch in which Roger Nouveau Football Fan drinks wine from a picnic hamper at an Arsenal match.
Invariably, any kind of missile throwing is met with howls of condemnation. Jose Mourinho, by contrast, was remarkably sanguine about the pelting of his players with missiles. ‘If, at the end of the game, someone threw a pound coin, put it in your pocket. If someone threw a chocolate, eat it. It is no problem. Everybody needs a pound’, he said. It makes a refreshing change from the customary outrage-by-numbers. And this got me thinking. Can missile-throwing ever be virtuous? Bear with me on this, but I think it can be. In a recent column, I argued that not all pitch invasions were bad. Some incidents, such as the recent incursions at Reading and Aston Villa after their FA Cup victories, were positive expressions of passionate celebration. Similarly, I would argue that, in certain situations, missile-throwing can be good. During a Merseyside derby match at Goodison Park in 2009, Liverpool fans threw rolled-up socks on to the pitch and chanted ‘sock robbers’ at their city rivals. The gesture baffled millions of TV viewers but it was a mocking reference to the burglars of Kirby, who supposedly wore socks on their hands to avoid leaving fingerprints because they were too poor to afford gloves. At the time, Everton were reportedly planning to build a new stadium in Kirby.
Another fine example of benign missile-throwing occurred in a Swiss Super League game between Luzern and Basel in 2010. Fans of both teams were so unhappy that the kick-off time had been changed to Sunday lunchtime to avoid a clash with a tennis match involving Roger Federer that they hurled hundreds of tennis balls on to the pitch. It was funny, nobody got hurt, the match was suspended for 40 minutes, and, most importantly, the Swiss fans achieved widespread publicity for their protest. What’s not to like? Those Swiss fans showed the world that it is possible to throw missiles for a good cause. Inspired by the Swiss action, Blackpool fans threw tennis balls and tangerines on to the pitch in a game against Burnley in April 2014 as a protest against the club’s chairman, Karl Oyston. In a similar vein, fans of the Croatian side Hadjuk Split threw doughnuts on to the pitch in a protest against their club chairman, who owned a local bakery.
Of course, most examples of missile throwing are devoid of any noble intent. They are usually spontaneous expressions of anger or frustration. It goes without saying that hurling hard or sharp objects can cause injury. But, at the same time, the ability to turn an everyday object into a makeshift weapon is a testament to human ingenuity. These days, English football fans are routinely subjected to bag checks and body searches as they go through the turnstiles. But, if it ain’t bolted to the floor, then it can be hurled on to the pitch – coins, plastic bottles, mobiles and cigarette lighters being the most common examples of makeshift missiles.
Some missiles, however, are far from ordinary. Here the ingenuity lies in the novelty of the missile. Last year, Marseille midfielder Mathieu Valbuena was preparing to take a corner when an inflatable Betty Boop doll was thrown on to the pitch. In Spain there have been two separate incidents in which full bottles of whiskey were thrown on to the pitch. In Argentina a set of dentures were aimed at Argentinos Juniors coach Ricardo Caruso Lombardi by an angry fan in May 2013. The award for the most bizarre missile must surely go to Barcelona fans who hurled a pig’s head at their former star player, Luis Figo, during an El Clasico match in 2002. Dangerous yes, but you’ve got to admire the sheer chutzpah of using a pig’s head as a missile.
I have no wish to encourage missile-throwing at football matches. Throwing coins, flares or cigarette lighters at players is dangerous and likely to lead to a criminal conviction and a lengthy ban. But missile throwing isn’t always bad. Sometimes it can be witty. Sometimes it can be an expression of legitimate protest. And sometimes it shows that human creativity knows no bounds when it comes to finding novel projectiles to throw on to a football pitch.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @DuleepOffside