Date:Sunday January 22 2006
Anyone who has ever listened to a football phone-in would be forgiven for thinking that the actions of footballers regularly start riots. Rarely does a 606-type show pass without the prophesising of some apocalyptic consequence to an act of oafishness on a football pitch. But genuine riots are a rarity in British football. Even rarer when Millwall are not playing.
There was not a riot on Friday night following the one-all draw between Crystal Palace and Reading. The major talking point to emerge from a very good game was the reaction to Andy Johnson’s goal celebration. After successfully converting a penalty Palace’s England international headed in the general direction of the Royals’ supporters for a chinwag. Pleasantries, or otherwise, were exchanged before the Reading players answered Johnson’s actions in the most brutal of fashions scoring an emphatic equaliser.
Ever since the chief of the Pug Uglies, or Steve Bruce as he is sometimes known, drew Johnson’s honour into disrepute he has been burdened with the tag of a player who goes to ground easily. Opposition supporters, perhaps intimidated by his prowess as a player, have been quick to remind Johnson of his unfounded reputation. Friday’s celebration followed 78 minutes of incessant baiting from the Reading fans.
Selhurst Park is a football ground which has seen some particularly memorable reactions to supporter derision over the years. Eric Cantona’s kung fu kick springing most readily to mind. But Johnson did not suffer racial abuse, and he did not dive over the advertising hoardings either.
Part of what makes live football special is the interaction between player and supporter. Do we want a game played by passionless robots behind soundproof Perspex? Surely by targeting a specific player supporters hope to elicit a response. Is it right to expect this to be a wholly one-way process? If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime. The Reading fans wanted a response from Johnson and they got one. Sadly for them they didn’t like the flavour. “But oh Johnson could have started a riot blah blah blah.” Get real. He scored; he celebrated and received a caution. No one died; move on.
Reading are a credit to the Championship and I wouldn’t be disappointed to see them prosper in the Premiership. They play with refreshing vitality, have some outstanding players and a manager who every Palace supporter loves and respects. But just because you are in possession of a royal nickname doesn’t make you the rightful proprietors of the Corinthian ethos. Glory and pretension do not sit well together. In the two or so hours that Andy Johnson has played against them this season he has been one of the few players outside the Premiership to make them look remotely beatable. Is it the threat of his goals or their celebration that causes most genuine alarm?
Andy Johnson has only scored more than once against two clubs this season: Stoke City and Reading.
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