Burnley defender Phil Bardsley speaks out about player safety amid recent pitch invasions

Burnley full back Phil Bardsley was one of the first players on the scene when team-mate Ashley Westwood was confronted by a fan at Ewood Park.

Friday, 15th March 2019, 10:20 pm
Burnley's Phil Bardsley in action against Newcastle United at St James' Park.

Blackburn Rovers fan Jordan Woods admitted assaulting the midfielder during a League Cup match in 2017 and received a three-year ban and a four-month jail sentence, suspended for two years.

Football once again went under the microscope for all the wrong reasons again recently, bringing light to the horrible realities that professional footballers face in their everyday lives.

Paul Mitchell, 27, has been jailed for 14 weeks for his involvement in the incident during the Second City Derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa, where Jack Grealish was attacked.

Less than 48 hours earlier there had been an altercation in which a Hibernian fan approached Rangers' James Tavernier in the Scottish Premiership.

And a third pitch invasion appeared to show an Arsenal supporter pushing Manchester United defender Chris Smalling at the Emirates.

"It's not nice to have seen the events over the last couple of weeks with spectators running on to the pitch, abusing players and attacking players," said Bardsley, who confirmed that on-pitch issues can be the least of their worries.

"We have to put up with that a lot of the time away from the game as well. When you're on the pitch you feel like you can go out and enjoy a game of football and be treated the right way but, unfortunately, last week's events have shown that you can't.

"It's a part of modern day society and social media. It's what you have to put up with, it's part of being a professional footballer. It's not nice but you grow a thick skin and try to ignore them."

The 33-year-old former Manchester United right back has been antagonised by rival fans throughout his career.

At times the insults can be unimaginable, even unbearable, but the one-time Scotland international had to learn how to keep the safety catch on.

"It's not too bad when you're with the kids, it's more when you're out for a drink or going for a bite to eat," he said.

"When somebody's had a bit too much to drink they get that bravery to say something to you that they wouldn't dream of saying or shouting if they weren't full of alcohol. It's part and parcel of what we are and it's up to us to deal with it.

"There are a lot of keyboard warriors. To pick your phone up and abuse someone now is quite easy because nobody knows who they are. It's up to you as a person and a player to try and block that sort of stuff out.

"He's a top professional is Jack Grealish. That's what top players do, they go on to score winning goals in big matches to silence the crowd.

"You want to take the safety catch off sometimes but it's not the right thing to do in this day and age."