Was going to write a shot preview of today's game against Lazio, only to wake up to read that ten Spurs fans were attacked standing outside a pub last night, two of which were stabbed and one is in critical condition. Arrests made, but no more news at the moment. Variety of rumours about CS gas and baseball bats and 'jews'. Apparently the attackers were masked. I like how the media are referring to it as an altercation. Probably considered a normal incident out in Rome, sitting alongside corruption and match-fixing.
Not sure what people expected last night. Category 5 game. West Ham. Millwall. Mid-week evening kick-off. Plenty of drinking time to be had. Hatred in large doses. A fixture between two sides that doesn't happen too often and when it does, both sets of fans quietly like to remind each other about the unrequited love they share for each other. Because next time might be some time.
It was always going to kick-off. Had Millwall been granted more tickets, there may have not been so many of them outside the ground pushing over horses, chipping bricks off walls and fighting the old bill. Then again, if the original 6,500 allocation had been granted, their fans may well have had more 'courage' (the type of courage a deeply lobotomised Borg Collective would display against the might of the Federation fleet) to invade the pitch rather than remain in the stands watching Hammers 'fans' goad the opposition players and generally mug themselves off in front of the cameras. Then again, it was only 50-60 or so home fans who ran onto the pitch. An excitable minority who seemed to want to re-enact a White Horse cup final moment. Turned out to be more like an infomercial on how to beat the flab. Jogging for the obese.
Not seen much footage of the battles outside the ground (before and after the game) and at the moment all the emphasis is on the pitch invasions and the fighting in the stands, while news filters in on exactly what happened outside in the streets.
The pitch invasions themselves were ridiculous and embarrassing. With every claret and blue goal, fan dodged the outnumbered stewards (who did their very best to stop, and to be fair to them they did great under the circumstances) and various punch-ups broke out near the stands and in them. I couldn't find a decent steam to watch the game and had to make do with Phil Thompson's dramatic re-telling on Sky's Soccer Special, that included a description of a Stanislav goal that suggested the player pulled out a mobile phone and filmed his celebration and the Milwall fan's reactions. Er, no. Not quite. There was a WH fan who was filming footage of the game on his phone, yes. Slight difference there Phil. His nose obviously getting in the way of monitor.
Over on Sky News, they showed various clips of very fat West Ham fan's running onto the pitch including Minty from Eastenders who at first glance looked like he was skipping away from an army of Heather clones who were chasing after his plump meaty body. He even managed the time to turn and gesture to one of the Millwall players. Pwoper nawty that. He'll treasure that moment, along with raising his arms towards the away fans, giving it large. Don't be missing with anyone who knows Phil Mitchell, right? Then Sky cut to a commercial break and showed an advert for the movie re-make of the hooligan classic, 'The Firm'. The irony jumping out of the tv like a scene from Poltergeist. I laughed out loud.
Not that any of this was a laughing matter. Two people stabbed. Whether innocent or people in the midst of it looking for trouble, it's still enough to churn your guts a little.
Small mercies? This wasn't shown live on television, which no doubt would have made matters far worse as it would have served as more of a stage for the trouble-makers. Cue plenty of 'terrible advert for the English game' sound-bites, no doubt. Police will have to answer questions about the operation and planning ahead in perperation. No idea whether tasers are an option for games like this and would assume that the more attack dogs available the better. Dogs. Or bees. Or dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you. As for the obvious effect this may have on our World Cup bid for 2018?
Platini in 3..2..1..
I guess neither sets of fans (the minority who disgrace the majority) deserve the screen-time to re-live the 70's and 80's and would hope their next encounter would be moved to an early kick-off or perhaps played behind closed doors. Although it's unlikely they will meet again for a while. What will the FA do in the aftermath of all this? I'm sure West Ham will attempt to identify and ban the invading fans. Police will do the same to anyone involved in the running battles outside and inside the ground. A fine or two will also be dished out to the clubs (probably) and the usual Daily Mail exaggerations will be with us until something else steals the spot light away from what was an absolute unsurprising inevitable clusterfuck of an evening.
I spoke to a police officer several months back (at Wembley prior to the Carling Cup final) and he mentioned he's at the New Den every other Saturday policing the Millwall home games. Said that their fans always fight, most often with each other. They are constantly up for it and don't care about anything or anyone. Not been to Millwall since we last played them there in a friendly (carnage it was) so I have no idea how much of a generalisation his comments are. No one in football is naïve enough to believe there are not pockets of idiots scattered around at most clubs who look for a bit of trouble against other like-minded individuals. There are plenty of active firms up and down the country and more than a few category A games for the police to sink their teeth into. This was always going to be volatile.
That doesn't excuse what happened, but surely the police could have considered the worst possible scenario and tripled their numbers, gone all out in riot gear from the tube stations all the way up to the ground, police dogs all over the shop and a general 'this is a war zone, fuck with us and you're fucked' attitude. Might be intimidating for the innocents, but chances are you won't lose control of the situation. It just seems like they underestimated what could have potentially happened which everyone seemed to guess would.
It's unfortunate. But before the mountain engulfs the mole hill - just remember there is a massive difference between the running weekly battles outside/inside grounds and on the tubes from yesteryear and one isolated major scrap. Football in England is pretty much in safe hands. All the organised meet-ups and scuffles that do still occur at one or two grounds is pretty inconsequential in comparison to anything experienced in past decades.
However, one isolated incident (in this case) still equates to a massive riot and several pitch invasions. This wasn't 20 lads in Burberry arranging to meet in a car park to throw a few punches.
Best for the FA to be harsh on the guilty. Throw the book at them. Rather than taking another brick in the face.