There was no excuse, Chesterfield
Our front page story in last week’s issue (Headline: Out of Control) became something of a talking point throughout the week on social media. It certainly ruffled the feathers of Chesterfield fans, who vented their frustration that we had chosen to make such a fuss about a pitch invasion and the unsavoury scenes that followed rather than focusing on the positives of their magnificent comeback from 3-0 down to muster a draw in a pulsating 3-3 contest with Ebbsfleet United. For a few disgruntled Spireites fans, our paper was nothing more than a ‘sensationalist rag’ that was an ‘embarrassment’ to the National League. The irony of such comments were not lost on me...
Comebacks – even one as impressive as Chesterfield’s last Saturday – happen every week and are part of the fabric of the game, while pitch invasions are not. For this reason alone, and taking into account the ugly confrontations between some fans and players – notably one ‘fan’ clashing with Ebbsfleet keeper Nathan Ashmore – it was never going to be a story we casually swept under the carpet. Added to that, when the Chesterfield chief executive, Graham Bean (who served in the South Yorkshire Police for 20 years before becoming the first Compliance Officer to serve at the FA) made an official statement outlining the club’s fears for serious repercussions following allegations of physical contact between a fan and a player and racist insults between a fan and a player, we were duty bound to report on such matters. Sadly, the weight of the allegations and the video footage that followed meant this was front-page news.
The drama at the Proact Stadium unfolded after defender Will Evans had netted a 95th-minute equaliser. With emotions running high, a number of Spireites supporters broke on to the playing surface with one confronting Ashmore – who was on his back on the floor of the goal area. A melee then ensued with Ebbsfleet players rushing in to add their support before the allegations were made.
While the incident itself left a sour taste, some of the justifications offered by a small section of Chesterfield supporters were actually more disturbing (these are grown men, by the way). To claim Ashmore “had it coming” to him, or that a player inciting the crowd and time-wasting is an excuse for fans to enter the field of play is quite laughable. Fans throw dog’s abuse at players but when a player gives something back his actions are unacceptable. And as for time-wasting? Sorry, but it’s a dark art of the game that everyone hates unless your team is doing it in the 93rd minute when protecting a one-goal lead. Ashmore was booked for time-wasting, so the referee reacted and took action. Going on to a football pitch and taking matters into your own hands is no solution to the problem.
There were initial fears that the club would be hit with a points deduction. But that would be a step too far for me, and it would be grossly unfair on the vast majority of decent Chesterfield fans. But somewhere down the line, a club is going to have to pay for such incidents with the harshest possible penalty. Even if it is only a group of mindless prats who have no idea how you should behave at a football match.