[quote_center]’Villa supporters were on the pitch before the final whistle because they thought it was all over.'[/quote_center]
“Some people are on the pitch…they think it’s all over…it is now!” The immortal words from the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary of the 1966 World Cup lives long as one of the most fondly remembered lines in English sporting media history.
Wolstenholme was describing scenes of England supporters prematurely running onto the Wembley pitch with England leading 3-2, before Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick and made it 4-2.
The perception was the England supporters were simply wrapped up in the excitement of the moment and thought the full-time whistle had gone. They were not considered hooligans.
Contrast it to the BBC’s commentary team’s remarks describing the Aston Villa supporters running on the pitch before the final whistle of their FA Cup quarter-final against West Brom:
‘Why would you do this, you’re winning?’ Asked Mark Lawrenson, before he and the main commentator Jonathan Pearce sparked the sensationalism that was later copycatted by the nation’s press.
“Absolute madness. Could you imagine if the referee abandoned the whole game now?” added Lawrenson
“This could ruin the whole day for Villa, the FA Cup… it could tarnish the tournament,” warned Jonathan Pearce.
Imagine if Wolstenholme had followed that tact: “This could ruin the whole day for England, the World Cup…it could tarnish the tournament.”
Pearce was also quick to vilify supporters, adding: “All those faces will be on CCTV.” Basically, implying all the fans on the pitch were hooligans and thugs.
Then supporters were mocked…
“Loads of villages have lost their idiots tonight,” quipped Lawrenson.
Disappointingly, Pearce even had the gaul to blame Villa supporters for sabotaging their manager’s day, in what was his most ill-judged comment of his commentary.
“His face tells the story, his day has been ruined, his day has been completely ruined,” claimed the BBC commentator of Sherwood.
Avoiding the Issue
Lawrenson’s attempt at answering his own question of ‘why would you do this?’ was to label Villa fans ‘idiots’. Instead of actually considering why the fans were indeed on the pitch.
The late Kenneth Wolstenholme would have known the answer. Villa supporters were on the pitch before the final whistle because they thought it was all over. Nothing more than that.
The moment that first triggered Villa fans
As the game entered the 93rd minute the whistles of Villa supporters could be heard around Villa Park, as they willed on the final whistle. In the corner of the Doug Ellis and Holte End, many supporters patiently waited on the side of the pitch for the ref to blow for time, having earlier spilled on the pitch to celebrate Sinclair’s second goal that killed off the tie.
When referee Anthony Taylor blew the whistle for a throw-in on the 93 minute 27 second mark, at the same moment, Matthew Lowton threw his arms in the air to contest the decision with the linesman, who had given the throw West Brom’s way.
Upon hearing both the whistle and seeing Lowton’s arms go up in the air as if he was celebrating (see picture below), the fans thought the game was over. Naturally, this caused a knock-on effect of other fans following, just as a sprinter who false starts triggers his rival sprinters to set off.
Back in 1966 at Wembley, the crowd were further from the pitch, so the supporters on the pitch, didn’t create the snowball effect of other fans following so quickly to swell the numbers. At Villa Park though, fans were waiting on tenterhooks, en mass, pitchside, and without stewards to calm their excitement.
[quote_center]“Some people are on the pitch…they think it’s all over” – World Cup Final 1966[/quote_center
A steward monitoring another section in the Holte End had visibly given fans a two-minute signal to tell them when it was ok to come on the pitch to celebrate. The section in the Doug Ellis/Holte corner needed a similar timekeeper.
Fellow Villa fans rectify mistake
In the delirium that followed, supporters were simply celebrating the fact they’d beaten their local rivals twice in a week and they were off to Wembley.
They were NOT ‘hooligans’, ‘mindless idiots’ or ‘morons’, as the press made out. They just made a simple mistake, like fans celebrating an offside goal when they haven’t seen the linesman’s flag yet.
What you notice from the footage of the game is as soon as some Villa fans on the pitch register the whistle wasn’t for full-time, they start to wave each other back to the pitch side. Obviously, with the adrenaline pumping (and the day’s alcohol) some fans are quicker to react than others, but the premature celebration was over within a minute.
Also, no actual harm was done. Another fact conveniently overlooked by the press coverage.
The Blame Game
FA & TV
Increasingly over the years in football it’s a big no-no to encroach the field of play. Yet, when it comes to celebratory pitch invasions, clubs thankfully turn a blind eye to the ‘official line’.
Every time Villa have gone through to Wembley in the past at Villa Park, supporters have celebrated on the hallowed turf of Villa Park; most recently in 1994, 1996 and 2010. When Tony Pulis’s Stoke beat West Ham at the Britannia to claim a FA Cup semi-final spot, there was a pitch invasion (which Pulis seems to have conveniently forgotten now), just as there was a pitch invasion by West Brom fans at the Hawthorns when they survived relegation on the last day of the season in 2005.
The way Villa’s weekend celebration was reported (especially by the BBC’s Phil McNulty), it was as if such scenes had never happened before.
Questionable TV Slot
For this celebration the club are under FA investigation. There’s no greater irony that the FA are once again investigating something they initially laid the foundations for. Of all the FA Cup ties chosen for a Saturday 5.30pm TV slot, a fierce local derby is perhaps is not the wisest of choices, if safety and crowd control is your number one concern.
A lot of Villa and Albion fans were surprised their game was chosen for that time slot, but nobody was complaining as it was the least inconvenient of the four TV slots available. The fact that no quarter-final fixture took place at 3.00pm on a Saturday, tells you all you need to know about Television’s influence on the game. In this case TV has reaped what it has sown.
With the extra drinking time, the BBC in turn benefitted from a heighten atmosphere from the crowd for their viewers, yet were quick to turn on the fans when their over enthusiasm causing an error of judgement.
You could argue that it was from the judgemental coverage from the BBC pundits and commentators, that encouraged newspaper editors to spin fans celebrations into a Villa Park ‘Carnage’ as the Sun slapped on it’s front page.
At the moment Scott Sinclair scored to make it 2-0, effectively winning the game for Villa, there was barely a steward in sight in the corner of the Doug Ellis stand and Holte End, where the aforementioned premature celebratory pitch invasion started less than 10 minutes later.
Fans had spilled onto the pitch to celebrate Sinclair’s goal with the goalscorer and other Villa players. It was all good-natured and the kind of passion the TV companies sell the game on.
The important thing though this moment was a warning for Villa stadium security. Even if their forward-planning hadn’t been up to scratch, they now knew there was supporters standing at the side of the pitch who could potentially come on to the field of play again. Surely a thin line of stewards would be despatched?
But no. In the picture below, it can be seen that after the 91th minute, along the bottom of the Doug Ellis stand, where supporters waited for the final whistle, sitting and standing on the advertising hoardings, there isn’t a steward in sight until the corner joins the Holte.
The club obviously weren’t planning to prevent the anticipated post-match celebration by fans, but at the same time, they haven’t taken any precautions against the possibility of any encroachment caused over excitement halting play.
Over at the North Stand, a line of stewards was already in line to keep in check the Villa fans until the final whistle. This is all that was needed at what had already proved to be a weak spot in the Doug Ellis stand.
Back to the moment that triggered what some fans thought was the final whistle, credit must go to the Villa fans who frantically waved others back to the touchlines since there were no stewards deployed in that area to make an real impact.
Once back on the touchline, the fans waited unaided for the actual full-time whistle. What these pictures show is there was a general demographic mix of fans and not a bunch of thugs as the media later portrayed.
Why would supporters run on a pitch to purposely endanger their team going through to the Wembley semi-final of an FA Cup? Well Mr Lawrenson, the answer is they wouldn’t. They simply thought the game was over.
The club will no doubt have to front up some fine by the FA (hopefully for the sanity of the game, no more than that). But yet again football fans have been shamelessly victimised by the press.
Back in 1982, the Sun newspaper ran the following cartoon, after Villa fans had got into scrapes while away at Anderlecht in the European Cup semi-finals.
The Sun was implying that the best way for the Foreign Secretary of the time Francis Pym to win back the Falkland Islands from Argentina was to drop a bunch of Villa supporters on them.
Yes, The Sun were giving Villa supporters grief even before their disgusting treatment of Liverpool fans at Hillsborough. Villa fans were no saints at the time in Belgium, but they didn’t exactly carry axes or maces.
33-years later the newspaper’s attitude to Villa supporters (and football fans in general) hasn’t changed, even after being exposed for making up their slanderous reporting on Hillsborough in the late eighties. Apparently, Villa supporters are now thugs that go around biting their own players.
Delph’s light-hearted comment in his post-match BBC interview about supporters trying to kiss and bite him was twisted into the Sun’s appalling front page headline: ‘Villa hero bitten by thug’, while the front page picture of police threatening fans taking pictures with their mobiles while winding-up the few Albion fans that remained, shows you how desperate the paper was to make something out of nothing.
Delph himself later clarified: “It’s wasn’t a bite, it was a kiss. I wasn’t worried at all. The fans love me and I love them. I was jumping about with them.”
What must the Sun think of his statement? Maybe tomorrow’s headline will read ‘Delph deserves Villa Park ban for joining in thuggish behaviour’.
If the club bans anyone, it should be Sun journalists from darkening the door of B6. I would also propose that Villa fans abstain from purchasing the newspaper or clicking on any of their website links.
Most of the national press were no better (we’ll deal with them elsewhere) and they remain unaccountable in the football world for their false reporting and sensationalising of events.
Mark Lawrenson proclaimed during his commentary that events at Villa Park were taking football back to the eighties. He was wrong about the Villa supporters, who were merely celebrating in the ground, but he was unwittingly spot on about the national press’s coverage of the game.
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