A Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United was never likely to be a tame affair, but unfortunately a Leeds fan ventured way beyond the realms of acceptability and stole all the headlines for himself.
Michael Tonge had just scored a stunning equaliser in front of the 5,000 travelling contingent to send United fans wild. The appearance of Leeds fans invading the pitch to celebrate isn’t as uncommon as it may seem, although it’s never ideal to have supporters on the field of play. Out of the blue one young fan blindsided Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland and landed a two-fisted punch in his face.
The thug ran into the crowd with a wide grin on his face, proudly looking over his shoulder at Kirkland lying on the turf, holding his face. The smug fan might not be so happy when he finds out that the entire attack and escape was filmed by Sky Sports, who zoomed in for a good look at his face, and will probably pass the footage on to the police.
Friday night’s clash at Hillsborough was the first time the two white rose giants had met in five years and from the off it was obvious that no love had been lost since their last encounter.
The first half was full of talking points.
Wednesday were very unlucky when a seemingly blatant handball in the Leeds box by Argentine striker Luciano Becchio went unpunished by the officials. Soon after the cameo by the Hand of God, Michael Brown, a player who likes to let his opponents know when they’ve been tackled, left his foot in on Owls striker Chris O’Grady, before falling to the ground and feigning injury to avoid suspicion.
Wednesday defender Miguel Llera was fortunate to stay on the field when he thrust his hands in Brown’s face in order to get rid of the combative midfielder.
Jay Bothroyd’s 44th minute headed goal was almost overshadowed by the more unsavory incidents in the bad-tempered first half, which remarkably did not produce a single yellow card.
Sheffield Wednesday were the better team in the first half, and they continued to outmanoeuvre their lacklustre opponents in the second half. Bothroyd, Antonio and Barkley all looked lively and creative throughout the messy affair.
The evening’s main talking point came in the 77th minute, but unfortunately it wasn’t Tonge’s superb 25-yard strike. Once the former Sheffield United midfielder smashed the ball into the Wednesday net he sprinted off to celebrate. During these celebrations several Leeds United fans ran onto the pitch.
One fan, later described by Leeds manager Neil Warnock as a “moron” ran up to the distracted Kirkland and floored the former Liverpool keeper before making his escape.
Kirkland was treated by the club physio, but looked decidedly shaken by the punch.
The game ended 1-1, but after the final whistle, Wednesday manager Dave Jones criticised Warnock and his players for applauding their supporters after the game. Warnock defended his actions, claiming that “the majority of the supporters had acted impeccably.”
The match has once again highlighted Leeds United’s problematic hooligan minority. During the 70s and 80s Leeds fans had a reputation as some of England’s most violent. Though the club has worked hard to discourage football violence, there remain a few dinosaurs that have no interest in the football and simply wish to create trouble.
Thankfully there’ll now be one less thug to worry about.
Entering the pitch carries an automatic three year ban from football, but Kirkland’s attacker can expect a lifetime ban. He may even face a prison sentence after the inevitable court case is finished.
Maybe a stint behind bars can send a message to others like him that regular football fans have no time for this kind of nonsense.
Football has thankfully moved on. It’s just a shame that some fans are still stuck in the dark ages.