Is an FA charge for Aston Villa's West Brom pitch invasion fair?

Villa face a significant fine for failing to prevent a pitch invasion following their FA Cup sixth round win over West Brom in March.

Two days after Villa defeated Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley to reach the FA Cup final, the club have been hit by an FA charge for failing to prevent spectators entering the pitch during and after the highly-charged victory, which was Villa's second in four days over their local rivals.

In reality there were three incidents that evening at Villa Park. One pitch invasion occurred when Scott Sinclair hit the decisive second goal in the 2-0 win, and a second when the final whistle went to confirm the victory. The third incident involved West Brom fans throwing seats on to the pitch, something Villa could do little about, but was of course, partly-provoked by the pitch invasions.

It is true that it is now an offence for spectators to enter the field of play, when in the past this was merely a sideshow to the 'romance of the cup'. In the FA Cup's golden years the lasting memories are of jubilant pitch invasions - which the BBC and FA delight in replaying year after year - but now such acts are outlawed as football and legislative authorities clamp down on the free expression that used to fuel the act of watching football.

The scenes at Villa Park were described as 'disturbing', though no injuries or incidents involving individual players were reported. Indeed, although pitch invasions are no longer the norm in British football and opposing players are right to express an element of fear at being confronted by rival fans, seats being thrown from the section holding West Brom fans were the major incident of unlawful behaviour - and the highest risk of injury - reported on the night. 

While the 2-0 victory was undoubtedly greeted with emotional scenes at Villa Park and would have been whatever the surrounding context of the game, the 5.15pm kick-off time - agreed by the FA and police authorities - is also being held responsible as a major factor in fuelling the 'toxic' atmosphere that was created, through offering extra time on a Saturday afternoon for fans to drink. After all, the two teams had played at the same venue the previous Tuesday evening with no incidents of note reported.

It seems that the FA have to be seen to act in such circumstances - indeed Reading are facing an identical charge following crowd encroachment at their FA Cup tie with Bradford -  and a zero tolerance policy is being adopted. Villa have been charged for the pitch invasions despite them being largely just over-exuberance.

The expected fine, when it comes, is insignificant to Aston Villa against the backdrop of an impending FA Cup final, but the charge goes another step further in knocking the wind out of football supporters, who do so much to make football the attraction and the 'product' that the sports' authorities and TV companies need it to be. 

Many fans feel that football supporters showing passion is continually being frowned upon, and the game will be a much less marketable product without a supporters' natural tendencies. While nobody is condoning the pitch invasion or denying that opposing players should not be confronted on the pitch by rival fans, the simple fact that no attacks on players took place means that Villa - and indeed Reading - are perhaps being treated a little harshly.  

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