Comment: Consequences, actions ... and a lucky man

Eric Neilson,. Manchester Storm, confronts the Fife Flyers fans behind the team bench (Pic: Steve Gunn
Eric Neilson,. Manchester Storm, confronts the Fife Flyers fans behind the team bench (Pic: Steve Gunn

If Eric Neilson is planning a light skate and looking for a soundtrack for his ipod, he could always select The Verve’s ‘’Lucky Man.’’

The Manchester Storm player could have been facing a season-ending ban, possibly even his contract being terminated in light of a significant suspension.

Instead he’s out for one weekend.

For trying to banjo a spectator?

‘’Well, I’m a lucky man, with fire in my hands’’ as Richard Ashcroft sings on that track

Neilson is responsible for his actions last Saturday.

Eric Neilson,. Manchester Storm, confronts the Fife Flyers fans behind the team bench (Pic: Steve Gunn

Eric Neilson,. Manchester Storm, confronts the Fife Flyers fans behind the team bench (Pic: Steve Gunn

By all accounts he squirted water into the crowd. That’s the oldest trick in the book if you’re getting harangued from the stands.

Some players have it down to an art form, and if you think Fife is the only place it happens then you clearly need to visit other rinks round the circuit.

It is beyond doubt that he turned, stood on the bench and directly engaged with a fan, and eyewitnesses say punches were thrown.

Amid that moment of mayhem, Eric Neilson crossed a line.

The incident involving Manchester Storm player Eric Neilson and a Fife Flyers fan. Pic: Steve Gunn

The incident involving Manchester Storm player Eric Neilson and a Fife Flyers fan. Pic: Steve Gunn

Regardless of provocation, pro sportsmen cannot confront fans.

And no league can possibly condone, or try to excuse or diminish, such actions.

DOPS’ leniency comes worryingly close to admonishing Neilson for his actions with a wag of a finger rather than a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

The full suspension of nine games was a reasonable, measured response.

Putting two-thirds of on hold pending no repeat of his conduct both this and next season skewed the balance and perspective it was clearly struggling to find. Flip the numbers – suspend for six, put three on hold, and the outcome would have been closer to what many anticipated, and still be just on the lighter side of all the possible outcomes open to DOPS.

The lack of narrative explaining its decision doesn’t help.

We can only assume DOPS was aware of the provocation from the stands, and accepted Neilson was reacting to what had been said and then the beer that was poured on him.

But there is no warning, or even a reminder, to players about their conduct – or indeed a reminder to fans of what is clearly unacceptable behaviour.

But DOPS did get a lot right.

The suspended fines were correct, and the decision also addressed the issue of putting a clear barrier between fans and players by ordering Fife to install plexi behind the bench and sort out better security arrangements.

But it left itself open to criticisms with the central issue of what Neilson did.

There was clearly sympathy for him among some of the loudest voices in the league who saw his reactions as justified - ‘’pour a beer over someone you deserve a good slapping’’ tweeted one as the wagons were circled and the blame shifting began.

Are leading figures within the EIHL seriously saying they are relaxed with players physically attacking or confronting fans who goad them?

The sympathy for Neilson - a genuinely popular fella mong the Storm faithful - can only stretch so far. The ‘’but he was provoked’’ line as a plea in mitigation extends only to a point.

Let’s be clear.

A fan who throws beer is idiotic and should be held to account for his actions.

But a player who squirts water into the crowd and throws punches at a fan is in the wrong. Completely.

One cannot justify, or excuse, the actions of another.