“It was scary. You should feel safe on a football pitch and when you don’t it’s disturbing.”
The last thing a manager would expect to see during a game is one of his players being attacked by someone in the crowd, but that’s exactly what happened when Graham Potter’s Ostersunds FK faced Jonkoping Sodra in a Swedish top-flight match on Monday.
With two minutes of the game remaining, a masked man ran on to the field and jumped on Ostersunds goalkeeper Aly Keita, who was watching his side mount a late bid for a winning goal down the other end.
After Keita was pushed to the ground, the attacker was apprehended by security guards. The goalkeeper required medical treatment after being struck in the head and the officials decided to abandon the match with the score tied at 1-1.
Potter, a former West Brom and Stoke City defender who has managed in Sweden for five years, has spoken of his shock at the incident.
“It was a surreal moment and obviously very disturbing,” he told The Set Pieces. “It was our throw-in and we were focusing on where we were going to put the ball. All of a sudden there was a noise in the crowd and you could see the attacker by our goalkeeper.
“He came from behind the goal which is a relatively family area. He must have run 20-30 metres and he chased our goalkeeper a bit first.
“Aly eluded him and then he took a couple of swings at him and jumped on him. The first thing you think is whether he’s carrying something, because then it could be really tragic. It was a nightmare experience really.”
The players and coaching staff ran to the goalkeeper’s aid before security guards wrestled the intruder to the floor. The mood in the dressing room afterwards was sheer disbelief at what had unfolded.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room was one of shock, disbelief, a bit of anger, a bit of upset. It was everything,” said Potter. “It was scary, you should feel safe on a football pitch and when you don’t it’s disturbing. There’s no course you can go on to help you prepare for how you act in that situation – it was a masked guy running onto the pitch.”
The only detail to emerge so far is that the attacker was a 17-year-old man, with police investigations ongoing.
“No one’s established anything yet,” said Potter. “They’re still doing their enquiries, but all we know is it was a 17-year-old lad. I’ve not witnessed anything like it before.”
Potter’s focus now is to make sure Keita has all the support he needs after the keeper was left shaken by the attack.
“Our first thought is with Aly and his family. His family were sat there watching him on television and then all of a sudden that’s happening. So we need to make sure they’re okay and he’s okay,” said Potter.
“Aly was doing fine when I saw him this morning. He’s a bit shocked but wants to get on with things and doesn’t want to speak too much about it.
“He certainly won’t want this to defeat him at all. But at the same time it’s not every day this happens, so we need to give him some time to make sure he’s okay. He’s a strong guy, a family man, and I think he’ll want to get out there and play and show that football’s bigger than that.”
With half of the Swedish season remaining, Potter is hoping his team can put the incident behind them and focus on consolidating their place in the top-flight in their first year after promotion.
“We spoke as a group afterwards and wanted to make sure we support Aly and give a positive message about our club and our outlook,” he said.
“We can’t let people like this win. We have to keep displaying the positive side to football and life.”