There was nothing abusive or malicious about Theo Walcott having a bit of fun with Spurs fans, pointing out what the result was while being taken off the pitch. No ‘giving them the finger’, no verbal abuse (not from his direction). Just an Arsenal player enjoying a win over their biggest rival. Unlike Jack Wilshere, we hope to see more of this from players in the sport.
Banter isn’t a one way street. Fans dish out things that ears, paper and computer screens can’t stand – from the usual F’ word and derivatives, to wishing a player gets certain diseases or the same type of treatments directed at his family, wife, parents and children. There comes a point when a player needs to be able to retaliate. While we’re not expecting players to pelt coins back into the stands and create a massive brawl in the middle of London, making fans feel a bit angry isn’t something that should be punished.
Players have the right to taunt fans, as long as it’s done within reason. Eric Cantona? That’s not reasonable. Swearing at fans? Obscene gestures? Probably too much, and deserving of some suspension and discipline.
But there’s nothing wrong with running to opposition fans and silencing them, putting a finger on the lips. While it might get some idiots in the stands riled up, players aren’t machines. The FA and the referee associations love protecting their referees with the usual line of ‘human error’ and moving on. Players are humans too, even if they make a lot more money than usual human beings. Expecting them to let everything just pass them by like it doesn’t affect them is like burying your head in the sand. We don’t want them starting fights with fans, but dishing a little bit back within understandable limitations isn’t bad for the sport.