English football is facing what the FA called its biggest crisis ever, after allegations emerged of systematic cruelty towards spectators at a series of clubs perpetrated by gangs led by a shadowy figure called Tony Pulis. Early indications are that the victims may number in the tens of thousands and that many of them were children at the time.
The scandal began to unfold when a brave group of young West Bromwich Albion supporters told an investigative reporter of their horrific experiences during a 0-0 draw with Burnley. Among other things, it is alleged that they were subjected to extreme boredom by endless defensive play and felt numb, even violated, after 90 minutes of what they were told was called ‘catenaccio’.
‘Football abusers like Pulis can be quite unbelievably devious,’ said Professor Peter Stevenson, a psychologist at Cambridge University. ‘They reel naïve young glory-seekers in on the promise of a half-decent Saturday afternoon and before they can take in what is going on, this behaviour gets normalised. Most feel that they cannot escape by doing something else instead because their mates will call them plastics.’
The investigation will now look at multiple alleged instances of fan abuse at Bournemouth, Gillingham, Bristol City, Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle and Crystal Palace, as well as West Brom. However, the most tragic cases of all may derive from Stoke City, where, unbelievable though it may sound, Pulis was allowed to return after a period away to inflict more suffering on thousands of innocent people who – correctly – thought that this really was the only thing to do in the Potteries at the weekend.
‘This could be only the tip of the iceberg,’ warned FA Chairman Greg Clarke. ‘Most of the cases we know so far relate to obscure clubs, but some of the worst serial supporter abuse may have been taking place in plain sight at some of our best known clubs. We are particularly urging Chelsea and Manchester United supporters to come forward if they have been forced by a charismatic but angry Portuguese man into a revolting practice called ‘parking the bus’.’
When asked for comment on the unfolding scandal, Arsene Wenger said that he hadn’t seen it.