The Lead

Shortly following video replay evidence which showed beyond a doubt that Rio Ferdinand had indeed been hit in the face with a coin at the dying stages of Manchester United’s 2-3 derby victory over City, someone (I don’t remember who now) Tweeted that the incident was both “unfortunate and unedifying.”

Whomever said that was right. While there have been cases of objects being thrown at players before, they are statistically rare. Still, Ferdinand was about half-an-inch away from being blinded in one eye. This was an extremely serious incident. Unedifying it may be, it’s newsworthy, and needs addressing, if only to find out what we can learn from yesterday and what we cannot.

Should City and other clubs be harshly punished for the crimes of their fans, including point deductions? Possibly, but this could lead to Draconian measures including lengthy pre-match frisking and cumbersome profiling. Nor will it prevent an inebriated fan from acting out and putting the entire club at risk.

Does football need better policing on the sidelines? The plentiful arrests yesterday indicate otherwise, and no matter of police can prevent one or two persons from attempting harm. As with club punishments, they likely help reduce the risk, but they cannot eliminate it.

Should there be nets behind the goals and corner flags, as Professional Footballers Association head Gordon Taylor suggested to BBC Five Live? Beyond being an eyesore, it’s a return to the day of fenced in terraces, an ugly reminder of the assumption that fans are naturally unruly and in need of visible restraints. Still, these barriers exist elsewhere in football, and they certainly would reduce the risk to near-nil. I’m of the personal view this response however would do more harm than good, as it represents a step backward in English football culture. As Malcolm Clarke, head of the Football Supporters Federation, noted,

“Netting is not something we feel is necessary to have. No one condones the throwing of missiles, but arrests last season were 24% down on previous seasons and not many social phenomenon alter that much. It is undoubtedly improving and I think before we start making knee-jerk reactions to particular incidents we ought to bear that in mind.”

There is however a much more difficult issue at the root cause of this bad behaviour, one that makes the solutions on offer here seem simplistic in the extreme. Many of the supporters involved were also taken up on drunk and disorderly charges. Despite gentrification and improved safety, a culture of casual alcoholism persists in England in which fans gain liquid courage to do stupid and violent things. Tackling the root causes of that won’t fit in a single news cycle, and their effects are certainly not limited to football.

Canada

Armen Bedakian reviews Toronto FC‘s off-season.

England

PFA may introduce netting in stadiums.

Balotelli’s agent reassures media he’s not leaving City.

Nine people have been charged in connection with Manchester derby violence.

Evra speaks out about PSG rumours.

Italy

AC Milan to focus on youth academies rather than spend to buy titles.

Nigel de Jong sidelined for the rest of the season due to Achilles injury.

La Liga

Messi surpasses Gerd Mueller’s scoring record.

Tim Stannard with all of last weekend’s La Liga action.

Fabregas won’t return to line-up until the new year due to injury.

Benzema and Ozil are great alternatives for Madrid during times of trouble.

Germany

Mainz coach says Schalke link is ludicrous.

Ross Dunbar breaks down the DFL’s ‘safe stadium experience’ ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

Bit and Bobs

“I too would get 90 goals if I were given penalties as referees give them away to Barcelona,” -Ibra comments on Messi breaking Mueller’s scoring record.

Richard Williams discusses Balotelli’s poor form as of late.

An interview with Juergen Klinsmann pondering the friendlies ahead.