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Dec 11, 2012

PFA calls for greater player protection

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has told ESPN that the football authorities have to devise a system of protection for players in the wake of the ugly scenes in Sunday's Manchester derby.

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The boss of the players' union came in for criticism on Monday for his suggestion that netting should be installed to stop incidents such as Rio Ferdinand being hit just above the eye by a coin thrown from the crowd at the Etihad Stadium and a fan running onto the field to try and confront the Manchester United defender following Robin van Persie's late winner in the 3-2 win for the Red Devils.

Relatives of victims of the Hillsborough disaster were among those most vocal in their opposition to such an idea.

However, Sunday's incident was the latest in a string of on-pitch incursions by fans this year which threatened the safety of players.

In October, Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland was struck in the face after a Leeds fan ran onto the field during the 1-1 draw at Hillsborough. The fan was jailed for 16 weeks.

In May, former Leeds star Alan Smith had to be rescued by police after he was mobbed by Huddersfield fans at the final whistle of MK Dons' visit to the Galpharm Stadium.

Taylor believes that protection for players is now of paramount importance, and a great deal of debate is needed to come up with a method acceptable to players and fans alike.

"We need to explore some means of protection which does not affect viewing or the safety of spectators," he said. "We will wait for the FA inquiry."

PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle echoed Taylor's sentiments, claiming that football's authorities should not wait until someone is seriously hurt before decisive action is taken.

"Do we have to wait until an England captain is blinded by a coin to grasp the nettle and stamp down on supporters who behave in an unacceptable way?" Carlisle was quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror. "You can't pretend there is no problem when one of England's best players, Wayne Rooney, goes to take a corner and you can see missiles flying through the air around him. Until Rio Ferdinand was hit by that object, it's only by luck that players have not been injured before because the missiles were missing their targets.

"On one hand, you do not want to over-dramatise the problem and resort to scaremongering, but on the other hand you can't sweep what happened at the Manchester derby under the carpet because it was terrible.

"The truth about hooligan behaviour inside football grounds is not that it's on the increase, nor that we are creeping back towards the bad old days, because the problem never went away in the first place. But the important thing is how we respond and deal with it.

"We don't want football to reach the stage where something terrible happens before we address the issue, like tearing down the fences which penned in fans until 96 innocent people lost their lives at Hillsborough.

"Sadly, it has taken someone as high-profile as Rio to suffer for the issue to make the front pages. Now is the time to clamp down, now is the time to stamp it out.

"We need to lower our tolerance levels, we can't afford to wait until there's a tragedy."

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