THIS NEWSPAPER, on countless occasions, has criticised football clubs for their failure to take any responsibility for the violent behaviour of their fans. The clubs always argue that there were mitigating circumstances for the displays of hooliganism – either the referee had provoked them with ‘biased’ decisions or the policing was inadequate. And when policing is adequate and a few hooligans are manhandled by officers, the clubs would invariably accuse the police of using ‘excessive force’.
In short, the clubs never take a clear, unequivocal stand against the thugs that threaten lives, cause chaos and vandalise properties. Each club takes the attitude that the troublemakers “might be violent thugs, but they are our violent thugs so we have to protect them.” This attitude was exhibited after Tuesday night’s violent clashes at the round-about next to Nicosia’s GSP stadium, ahead of the APOEL-AEL match. After the perfunctory condemnation of the fans’ behaviour, both clubs’ statements blamed the violence on the poor policing.
There were not enough policemen, complained Apoel, but according to the police spokesman, there were 300 on duty at the stadium. How many should there have been – a thousand or two thousand? And why should the taxpayer pick up the bill for a thousand officers on duty, when the clubs do nothing to control the few hundred hooligans among their fans? If APOEL and AEL were footing the police bill, we could have had 3,000 officers at the match, but they never pay a cent, which is why they still pander to their hooligans.
An APOEL fan, who had been hit by a rock while in the car going to the stadium, has lost the sight in one eye while one of six policemen injured needed extensive treatment. Were the police to blame that thugs were throwing rocks and firing flares at passing cars? Nevertheless, the police publicly admitted that “some weaknesses and omissions possibly existed” in the planning of the operation and the command has ordered an investigation.
This was a big mistake, because it justified the claims made by the irresponsible club administrations. Have an investigation, but there was no need to announce it publicly and let the clubs defending the hooligans off the hook. For once it should be made clear that the real cause of the violence is not the bad policing but thuggish actions of hooligans whom the irresponsible football club administrators pander to and indirectly encourage.
There is a way to make the clubs take responsibility. When APOEL and AEL meet again in Limassol in a week or two, the police command should decline policing the match, because of a shortage of officers, and suggest the game takes place without any supporters. The clubs would lose a big amount of money, but it might force them to take some responsibility for the actions of their supporters.