Headbutt on the football pitch = red card. Headbutt on terrace = criminal record

I WITNESSED an assault this morning.

I saw one man run straight up to another and headbutt him full in the face, causing the victim to drop to the ground clutching his head in obvious pain. The man who so blatantly broke the law got away with it too.

So perhaps no-one else saw it? No – thousands of people saw it happen with their own eyes, some even cheered. Hundreds of thousands more, like me, saw it on a TV screen.

Not blurred and grainy, difficult-to-make-out CCTV footage. No this was full colour, high definition, 32-inch widescreen, surround sound panovision. We even got a slow motion action replay!

So perhaps there were no policemen around? Actually I'm sure there were several within yards of the assault.


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So how did he get away with it? Well, you could argue he didn't, because the "professional footballer" in question was shown a red card and sent off for "violent conduct".

But my point is this; those police officers at the match were there to keep an eye not on the players, but on the crowd. If I was in that crowd and chose, for whatever reason, to headbutt the person next to me in the face so hard he fell to the floor, I would expect to be arrested.

I would not get a red card for "violent conduct". I would get a charge sheet for serious criminal assault. I would not have to miss the next game. I would get a criminal record which would stay with me for life.

The trouble is that my headbutt would not be on the pitch, which would make it the criminal offence of assault, not the sending-off offence of violent conduct.


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You see, what most people don't realise is that special rules apply on sports pitches, during matches. It is actually written into the statute books as a special addendum that an action which would in any other circumstances be a criminal offence is not really an offence if it is committed on the pitch during a game. And any normal sanction under law – a criminal record, maybe even some time in a cell – is replaced by whatever punishment the referee sees fit to dole out.

Really? No, of course not. The headbutt on the pitch is no less an offence in law than that on the terraces, or on the street on a Saturday night. It's just that we, as a society, choose to turn a blind eye to one and not the other, because the one on the pitch is apparently, "all part of the passion of sport" and "understandable in the heat of the game".

So how do you explain to a defendant in the dock that his headbutt on a Saturday night was criminal assault, whereas the headbutt by his highly paid hero at the big match a few hours earlier was not? The truth is, the law should be applied equally to everyone, with no special dispensation for those on the sports pitch.

Maybe it's time for the police officers keeping an eye on the crowds to turn their attention to the players instead?