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Villa fans don’t have a leg to stand on

I have a lot of respect for Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill, both in terms of his ability as a football manager, and also as an honest, intelligent and decent man.

So when he says he was ‘desperately disappointed’ about the behaviour of some of his own fans at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, the football world should sit up and take notice.

O’Neill was referring to chants which emanated from Villa’s travelling support during the game comparing Eduardo da Silva to Heather Mills which, not surprisingly, enraged many of the home fans.

There is a fine line between the great tradition of witty terrace banter and plain and simple bad taste. In my opinion, Villa fans crossed that line on Saturday. And then some.

I did a quick Google search yesterday, and it’s easy enough to trace the gestation of the chant during the preceding week. What’s more worrying is some of the attempts by message board posters to justify it, ranging from ‘it’s just in fun’ to ‘it’s only a broken ankle; it’s not as if someone died’.

Is it just me, or is that pathetic?

I guess it’s important to lift the red mist and keep a sense of perspective on all this. Eduardo’s injury is serious but it is not a unique occurrence, nor is it necessarily career-ending. It’s obviously not as bad as an Antonio Puerta or a Phil O’Donnell or a Marc-Vivien Foe, all of which resulted in tragic fatalities.

But I’m sorry, no amount of sober reflection will ever make me think ‘it’s not as serious as X, so it must be OK’ is a valid justification for what was sung on Saturday.

It’s not exactly something for Villa fans – for anyone – to be proud of.

Here’s a hypothetical situation. A football fan – let’s say he supports Aston Villa, for sake of argument – suffers a serious work-related injury which means he cannot walk for several months. Entering his local pub on crutches, he meets a group of strangers from a rival firm who start singing songs in reference to his disability, justifying their abuse with the excuse ‘well, it’s not like anyone died’. How do you think our hypothetical fan should feel about that?

Sadly, Saturday was not the first time football supporters have collectively overstepped the mark. On several occasions – most recently at last month’s England game friendly Wembley – we have seen a small minority of idiots spoil a minute’s silence and bring it to a premature end. Fans of Manchester City and certain other teams have in the past taunted Man U supporters with ‘witty’ Munich-related chants. And my own club, Arsenal, is not immune from this sort of nonsense, with a number of well-known chants directed at fans and managers of local rivals Tottenham which many would find distasteful (and which I personally have always chosen to not participate in).

It then suggests a stunning lack of self-awareness for we fans to protest about why so many people outside football are so quick to brand us all as hooligans and yobs.

I wonder why.

Even more so than Martin O’Neill, perhaps Arsene Wenger summed it up best when he said: ‘It looks like stupidity has no limits.’

Even as an Arsenal fan, I will be the first to admit Wenger isn’t right about everything he says. He’s bang-on about this, though.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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