If the police and FA thought the battle against football hooliganism was won, then the recent events at Upton Park suggest otherwise.
Over recent years, it would be fair to say that football hooliganism has become less of a problem. However, the scenes of violence which marred last week’s Carling Cup tie between West Ham United and Millwall saw the issue rear its ugly head once more and serve a timely reminder that the issue has far from been eradicated from the game. Instead it has spread to less policed areas away from the stadium and become more organised and advanced through the use of the internet and mobile phones.
A number of disturbances broke out between rival fans around Upton Park, most of whom did not have tickets for the match and had only turned up with the intention of causing trouble. As the away fans walked largely unprotected to the game, a man was cruelly separated from his family and stabbed. This fan was quite simply a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Further disorder then occurred within the stadium with two pitch invasions causing the match to be temporarily abandoned. Hundreds of fans even left the match before the end in fear for their own safety, in particular those with children.
After the match, there were around 200 riot police officers to usher fans towards the tube station, but questions have been raised as to why they failed to protect the away supporters as they made their way to the game earlier on. Not to mention, why was alcohol so readily available for both sets of supporters despite the history of violence between the two clubs?
Whilst in the past Millwall have been renowned for the hooligan element of their fan base, the recent episode at Upton Park saw their fans largely blameless as the home fans were the main instigators of the trouble which occurred. As the home team, West Ham were responsible for crowd control and as a result, can expect a rather hefty fine. The FA may wish to go further than this though, with West Ham facing the possibility of playing their next Cup match behind close doors. It is widely expected that all who participated in the trouble will be banned from football for life, but identifying them in order to hand out the necessary punishments could well be a lengthy process.
A plethora of literature can be found on the subject of football hooliganism, in addition to films such as The Football Factory and Green Street. Critics argue that these are detrimental to the image of the game, with violence glorified leading to the debate of ‘copycat’ actions. The forthcoming football hooliganism film ‘The Firm’ has seen its trailer withdrawn due to unsuitable content, with calls for campaigns to ban all books and films on the topic.
In the aftermath of the recent events at Upton Park, many have predicted England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup will be affected. These shocking scenes will have further tarnished the already negative reputation of the England fans as mindless thugs.
However, it is important to maintain perspective – one of the reasons why the trouble at Upton Park has attracted so much media attention is due to the fact that confrontations like this seldom happen anymore. Compare this to the 1970’s where such acts of violence were commonplace at football matches and rarely out of the news.
Furthermore, a deeper analysis of the incident extracts the positives and highlights that important lessons can be learnt from this. Perhaps it was down to a somewhat naivety that this match was inadequately policed. One must remember that although football hooliganism is nowhere near as persistent as it used to be, it will always continue to exist in one form or another and acknowledging this is the key to successfully tackling the problem.Tags: Carling Cup, Hooliganism, Millwall, West Ham