Yesterday Everton came back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to win 3-2 over Crystal Palace at Goodison Park. The win secured them a place in next year’s Premier League and guaranteed that one of Leeds or Burnley will be relegated this season.
The match itself was a fraught affair. Home fans started the match at fever pitch and yet somehow found further gears as the game went on. Referee Anthony Taylor didn’t help things with his normal chaotic refereeing and Evertonians felt aggrieved that Jordan Ayew wasn’t sent off for a nasty challenge on Anthony Gordon in the 35th minute. That anger was stoked two minutes later when Ayew scored an ugly goal to put Palace 2-0 up and leave Everton gazing into the abyss of relegation.
But Everton managed to get into half-time without conceding a third and came out in the 2nd half full of piss and vinegar. The scoreline went 1-2 when center half Keane scored with a left footed poke off a set play. Then Richarlison scored with a deflected shot from a crazy angle to make it 2-2 and at this point you could feel the crowd were about to burst as their destiny loomed. And when Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored Everton’s third goal, in the 85th minute, the emotion boiled over and fans came on to the pitch.
I’m not one to tell fans not to celebrate. In fact, given the season that Everton have had and the specific way that they had come back into this game to avoid relegation, it was totally understandable that some folks would come on to the field. What isn’t debateable, however, is that it is the responsibility of Everton football club and the Merseyside police to ensure the safety of the fans, coaches, and players. When they saw the fans on the pitch in the 85th minute, that should have been the cue to tell them that things were going to spill over at full time and that it would be their job to protect Patrick Vieira and his players as they made the 80 yard trek across the pitch from the dugout to the away team dressing rooms. That was the minimum that they should have done but they failed.
So, when the full time whistle went off, fans did come onto the pitch and Patrick Vieira was forced to make the long walk to the away dressing room as hostile Everton supporters surrounded him and shouted abuse in his face.
Vieira tried to compose himself with dignity. He walked with his head held high but I can only imagine that he wasn’t feeling too great, after all his team had just conceded three goals in the second half. And as he approached the safety of the away dressing room a dick head with a cell-phone got right up in his face and literally gave Vieira the middle-finger on the side of his head. We know that this is what happened because the dick head has released his own cell phone footage of him doing exactly that.
We’ve had a lot of talk lately about “free speech” and how we need to protect “free speech”. And I agree that free speech needs to be protected. However, there is a massive difference between a government limiting free speech, brutally murdering and dismembering a journalist for example, and someone getting kicked at because they are a complete knob. You can expect free speech, and in fact in the UK and the USA you are protected to say almost anything you want, the governments are unlikely to murder you for calling Boris Johnson a knob who metaphorically sniffs Piers Morgan’s taint or saying that Donald Trump is broke and has a micropenis (these are things that I have heard on the internet but cannot verify). But what you can’t expect is consequence-free speech from your fellow citizens.
I am free to say the above things and you are free to be mad at me for saying them. A complete knob is free to film himself sticking his finger in Patrick Vieira’s face while screaming obscenities at him. But I am here to tell you that if you do that you should probably expect him to kick the shit out of you.
But that’s not what’s going to be discussed on the fainting couches of the British press this week. What will be discussed is how evil Patrick Vieira was for losing his temper. Folks are going to say “the fan was wrong to be doing that BUUUUT..” and then go on about how Vieira should have done better.
Which will entirely miss the real point and the real problem. Instead of investigating Vieira for trying to protect his dignity, we should be asking serious questions of Everton football club and the Merseyside police. How come Vieira wasn’t protected from this mob? Why was he made to walk across the pitch so that he could be made the object of public ridicule by some cell-phone wielding knob? And how many years will it be before that cell-phone wielding knob will be allowed to attend a football match again?
For me this incident isn’t about Vieira losing his cool. This was Everton football club completely losing control of basic safety protocols and endangering an opposition coach and legend of the game. If anyone should be punished, it’s Everton.