Why crowd trouble at a youth game has sparked a debate on role of parents, media and fans in Spanish football in bad behavior on and off the pitch
Last Sunday, a hard tackle in a match between Alaró and Collerense sparked a huge brawl on the Mallorca-based pitch, involving two dozen fans, players themselves and some bystanders. The outcome was appalling: a few were injured, over half-a-dozen police reports filed and a shocking video recorded that soon leaked onto social media.
The kids playing the game where under-14 players.
And the fans in the stands that started the brawl, their parents.
The aforementioned video has once again spurted buckets of indignation and many relevant individuals in the football world condemning such embarrassing attitudes. But violence in youth football is not a new topic. Not at all. Furthermore, Spanish authorities watch powerlessly how their efforts in promoting fair-play and educational values seem to be overwhelmed by sheer rudeness, anger and a handful of incidents week-after-week.
This time, though, it was caught on tape.
While both Alaró and Collerense were quick to distance themselves from the incident and swiftly removed both the players and parents who took part in the fight, a national debate has been sparked once again in the media. Is this the image Spanish football wants to deliver worldwide? The outrage is still going strong, but no effective solutions seem to be emerging from all this drama.
Indeed, we’re talking about fourteen, twelve, ten-year-olds here. Or even younger: a few weeks ago, another brawl ensued between a few crazy parents in a game between the ‘Cherub’ teams of Paterna and Torrent. ‘Cherub’ as in five-year-olds. Absolute madness.
— PUNTO PELOTA (@puntopelota) March 23, 2017
Violence is quickly becoming one of the toughest issues to tackle for Spanish authorities, as many legal loopholes avoid countermeasures being as strong as they should. Many times, the children’s parents are to blame: too many expectations, huge amounts of pressure on top of the kids’ shoulders and utter contempt towards coaches and managers. Most of the time, any single parent might ask for his son or daughter to play more, or to take free-kicks when there are other more capable team-mates, or force his child to disobey his coach and do something else instead.
Then, personalities clash. And later, disaster strikes.
Therefore, some football academies are taking matters into their own hands. There are examples of clubs who compel parents into signing a good-behavior contract at the beginning of every season (ie. Valencian-based Patacona CF) and, if broken, have the authority to expel the trouble-maker out of their grounds. Or to make parents attend mandatory fair-play and behavior courses in order to manage their temper, as Malilla CF (also based in Valencia) has been doing since 2014.
Others have taken a more drastic approach: Futbol City Five Massanassa, a team with former connections to the Chelsea youth academy, decided two weeks ago to deactivate a 11-year-old’s license and free him from any ties to the school after his father had threatened to punch one of the academy’s coaches. The president of the school insisted that the kid was absolutely innocent and that he was actually pretty skilled, but the inability to solve the problem in any other way forced them to get rid of the boy because of his father’s sins.
La Liga and the Spanish Federation, meanwhile, are slowly but steadily trying to empower referees even further so that they have the authority to put on hold or even call off a game when witnessing verbal abuse on any pitch. And this move seems to be taking foot in all divisions of youth football, especially after incidents as the one that took place in Mallorca.
This empowerment may soon also affect professional footballers. Right now, doubting a referee’s performance in any La Liga game may result in a file protest against him and a 3,000 euro fee which any Gerard Piqué or Sergio Ramos could pay in their sleep with pocket money. If the legal frame is modified as the authorities wish, next season the fee will bump up into some 40,000 euros every time a player rants about the refs. And that is a figure that might stop many of them in their tracks.
Could you imagine this kind of blow being delivered, for example, to journalists who badmouth referees and make a living from creating and perpetuating conflict between sides? The key role played by journalism is also being eyed as a potential source of trouble with their constant bickering, taking sides, confrontation and low-standards.
Maybe it’s time to become much more relentless when enforcing these kinds of deterrents with ‘the big boys’… as the little ones, and their families, appear to be taking note of and imitating every bad habit they see.