In medieval times, the carnival was a curious part of the annual flow of life. In the months before Lent, the regular conventions of society were turned on their head. It was a time of indulgence and debauchery, cross-dressing and inebriation, licentiousness and sin. It was a festival of inversion when anything was possible.

Fast forward several centuries and the world is unrecognisable, but a legacy of that tradition persists. Festivities like Mardi Gras or Karneval are direct descendants of the medieval revelry, while seasonal fairs like The Hoppings serve a very similar purpose. Once a year, the normal rules of life are suspended and pleasure is king. Safely contained in time and space, the modern-day carnival acts as a safety valve for humanity’s wilder impulses.

And so to carnival’s not so distant cousin and the similarly unrestrained debauchery of the Away End. At its best, a joyously raucous, exuberant, unhinged celebration of life. A great seething, feral mass of energy. And limbs. Otherwise sensible folk momentarily intoxicated by an intense shared experience, if not infrequently by copious quantities of pleasure-enhancing substances, legal or otherwise.

There are many ways to support a team, of course. And as age creeps up on all of us, the comparative calm of the contemplative gaze from the Barbour-clad, hip-flasked East Stand draws us ever closer like a pair of comfy slippers. But let’s face it; the irresistible allure of our teenage kicks in the away end never truly disappears.

Behind enemy lines, navigating the dark narrow back streets around Ayresome Park or Maine Road. Being escorted from West Ham tube station by a regiment of mounted police while a ferocious mob of Grant Mitchell wannabes beckon you, arms outstretched, to join them for a polite exchange of views on the other side of the road. Furiously and defiantly cheering on eight men at the Baseball Ground to the most heroic 4-1 defeat in history as wooden seats fly overhead.

This is not normal. This is not everyday life. This is why we can’t give it up.

And yet… and yet… it certainly feels like there are legitimate questions to be asked at the moment about where exactly we draw the limits of our indulgence of our favourite unrenouncable carnival.

The first-hand accounts from the Euros final at Wembley last year made for horrific reading, including the one we published from one of our regular contributors. Ticketless fans forced entry, widespread drug use clearly fuelled disorder, and security measures and stewarding proved utterly inadequate. Since then, we’ve seen a spate of pitch invasions across the English game, further evidence of endemic Class A drug use, and a new-found ubiquity for flares and their inevitable consequences.

We’ve been spared the worst excesses of that apparently worsening behaviour in our crowds, but still something is brewing and behaviour deteriorating. Maybe it was the curious nature of the occasion after our stroll to safety and the opposition’s jeopardy, but I felt strangely detached in the away end at Burnley. More to the point, it was the first time in a long time that I’d set foot in a ground without a couple of pre-match looseners, and that lent the occasion a very different feel. Literally a sober(ing) experience.

Above all, I was unfortunate enough to have a seat in the back row of the lower section, right at the top of the steps that provide the main access point into the stand. As kick-off approached, the row was largely empty so that anyone coming up the steps simply decided it would be easier to take up station there than to find their own allocated seat. Fifteen minutes later and there were twenty of us crammed into the space notionally serving a handful of seats, not to mention a crowd completely filling the access area behind and showing no signs of being moved on by the stewards or police standing among them.

The same thing happened at Everton, together with the same furious ranting by those fans at any attempt from stewards to suggest they might actually occupy their own seat (or rather the space in front of it). At Old Trafford the aisle became an old fashioned open terrace, just without the safety barriers. And at the Etihad, there were empty seats all around me despite the sell-out. The reason? I was in the penultimate row at the top of the third tier. I’m assuming most people couldn’t be bothered to make their way up there and were clustered elsewhere.

Maybe I’m just getting old. But there’s a serious point here. Any pretence at effective stewarding of away fans seems to have simply evaporated. The away end has been conceded as a space by the authorities. And while that might seem to offer a welcome freedom from restraint, it also means an absence of the essential duty of care that we are owed.

We saw that at Leeds, where creaking, poorly maintained infrastructure combined with poorly paid, uninterested, barely trained stewards who clearly had neither the will nor the skills to intervene to ensure the safety of fans. And in Paris, Liverpool fans were on the receiving end of a different but related response. If the authorities imagine a space of transgression and lawlessness, they react with the kind of unacceptable inhuman tactics we saw on display around the Stade de France.

Of course, it doesn’t need to be this way at all. Respect and consideration for away fans has long been in short supply. But let’s not create the conditions where that is eroded further.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731