The Pitch Invasion Is Back
11:43 AM EDT on May 23, 2022
In what was an otherwise desultory third game of the Golden State–Dallas evisceration in which the stars have been more Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins than Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic, the one memorable moment came before the game when referee Marc Davis walked over to Mavs two-way civilian Theo Pinson and asked him to change his shirt from white to, well, anything but white. The Mavs have been fined three separate times for $175,000 because their reserves like to stand very close to if not on the court, and on occasion have worn white, the same color as the Warriors' jerseys.
As it turned out, Davis didn't buy him a new shirt, Pinson didn't change the one he had, and the team may get fined again, which, given that owner Mark Cuban is worth $4.7 billion, will become a problem if the series goes 159 games rather than the four we expect.
But it also came in a game in which Curry tripped over a waiter along the sideline and a woman tripped and fell trying to walk along the sideline while trying to leave the arena, so clearly the playing surface is becoming a bit of an issue, at least in a series that is rapidly reaching the doesn't-matter stage. Clearly, the Brits have a better and more socially democratic idea, and it's an old one making a comeback:
The full-on pitch invasion.
Seems that the good, often shirtless and largely drunken fans of Manchester City, who have not had a Premier League clincher to celebrate in 54 weeks, decided to fill the field at the Etihad after their lads had beaten Wolverhampton to secure their fourth title in six years. Their efforts were rewarded by Sky Sports pundit and professional crank Roy Keane calling them "scumbags" and "a disgrace" amidst the usual analysts' fevered debates about pitch security and player safety.
This came days after Everton fans ran onto the grounds at Goodison Park to celebrate their team avoiding relegation, first with five minutes to go and then fully afterward, inducing Crystal Palace coach Patrick Vieira to kick a fan as he ran off the field to relative safety. Fulham fans rushed Craven Cottage to celebrate their promotion back to the Prem, and Nottingham Forest fans flooded the field and one was even arrested for headbutting Sheffield United's Billy Sharp.
And before all that, if truth be told, there was the fans' general strike during the Super League disaster a year ago in which thousands broke into Old Trafford, Manchester United's stadium to protest their team's attempt to join up. That protest worked, as Man U and the other five English sides backed down, and now it seems almost quaint when stacked against these new pitch incursions. The stands are the new theater of dreams, and all the field is but a stage upon which to throw up all that room temperature beer.
Anyway, the British soccer punditocracy is up in arms over the plebs rising from the bogs to make their mood heard, seen, and felt. Of course, the British soccer punditocracy is up in arms when a new Man U player apologizes every week for the team's rancid performance. The British soccer punditocracy is up in arms as a condition of employment.
They are not, however, so up in arms about this, in which Leeds United player Raphinha went into the stands to celebrate with fans after the Lilywhites survived the drop. Not that they should have an issue with Raphinha, mind you; I just wanted to draw your attention to the three gentlemen in the foreground, and the contrast between them and Raphinha, who looks like he preps for games by lacquering himself like a hardwood entryway floor. Anyway, Keano and the lads stayed pretty quiet about them.
Point is, the Brits go all out for their celebrations, ignoring once-defended boundaries and scaring holy hell out of everyone involved. They just live closer to the edge of the apocalypse, I guess, because our country defines civil insurrection in sport by a rogue white T-shirt, a gin-and-tonic gone bad, and a lady who can't navigate the tightrope of the sideline. We come as close to the field as our ability to pay allows. In England, they just lurch down the stairs regardless of career or income and let gravity take its course.
Someone's not doing this right, and it may just be everyone. Yes, the odd player runs the risk of being trampled cartoon-flat, but the TV people do like the visuals even if it necessarily means allowing amorphous middle-aged guys with visible back hair and sad, beltless trousers to invade our sightlines. Yet as long as they keep their hands and heads off the players, is that worse than waiters hawking $85 G&Ts sharing limited floor space with $50-million athletes? Basketball players have always complained about how close the fans are to the floor, but the owners sell that proximity at a hefty rate and are unlikely to take out the most expensive row in the building just for something as minimally important as athlete safety.