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Wembley violence. It is time to act now.

By Tony Attwood

The Football Association can always be relied on to do the same thing when something goes wrong at a match that they organise.  They blame someone else.  Never once have I heard the FA, who (obviously) run the FA Cup and who own Wembley say, “Yep, it was our fault, we screwed up.”

And that is the very least they could do after the cup semi-final between Millwall and Wigan.  Of course any semi-decent organisation would have admitted failure, and gone much further.  They would have resigned en masse, ashamed of their utter and total corporate incompetence.  Then a new organisation could be set up – an organisation might make sense of the appalling an utter mess that is the FA, with its endless associations with the racist Fifa and its complete divorce from the realities of the supporters who go to matches.

So far, all we have seen or heard is Alex Horne call the situation “deplorable”.  Yes the situation was deplorable, and the people who allowed it to happen were those who run Wembley stadium and the FA Cup.  To wit, The FA.

Consider this for a moment… If I left the door to my house open, overnight, and found some thieves had come in and stolen a load of stuff, I might reflect on the sad state of our society in which there are people prowling around ready to break in.  But everyone, including myself, would know it was my fault for not taking the basic precautions.  But that is not how the FA thinks.  For them nothing is their fault.

What is worse is the way the national media love to collude with this cosy point of view in order to save them doing any real thinking.

As the Observer newspaper said, “…while it may reasonably argue that no one could have predicted that the Millwall fans would turn on each other…”   But no, that is not reasonable.  In front of me at the Emirates on Saturday several Arsenal fans had a set to with each other at the Norwich match – and we are getting used to seeing it as the AAA supporters step up their aggression on the pro-team and pro-Wenger fans.

All you have to do is read the blogs and note the gigantic split between Arsenal fans to see how deep the divisions are.  I don’t pretend to know whether this is the situation at Millwall, but it is certainly possible that there are two or more groups operating.  Certainly in the old Den there were at least three different groups of supporters in their own parts of the ground, each with their own agenda.

But of course the FA and the papers will focus on the same old stories that they have been peddling for years: its alcohol and mindless hooligans.

What they should be looking at is why there were no police offices and stewards in there so that people who do not want to be part of the fighting are protected.  Yes of course drink may have been part of it, but people can get drunk as quickly as they want, anywhere they want, any time they want.  People who love the feeling of drink inside them won’t think “Oh dear, the kick off is noon, we can’t drink”.

What we have always seen in football is the football “authorities” (I use the word ironically) have always been years and years behind the reality.  How many years did the Manchester United Supporters Association (London Branch) act as a focal point for Man U supporters who wanted to have a punch up at various London grounds, before the police recognised they were there?   Older fans might well remember Man U sinking into the second division in the 1970s and opening their campaign at Orient.  I can remember them taking that part of East London apart, with thousands there who had no interest in and no ticket for the game, but really wanted to show a second division club what Man U meant.   The police were hopelessly outnumbered, and if an alien had been looking on he would have thought the supporters were the group that had a strategy that afternoon not the police.

Likewise it took the authorities years to catch on to the notion of Citizen’s Band radio, and later mobile phones being used to sort out the when and where of confrontations.  Everyone else knew it, but not the authorities.

At least the Observer has the grace to recollect the Battle of Upton Park in 2009 when West Ham played Millwall, and yet again the police and football authorities were utterly outmanoeuvred.  What they didn’t say however was, “has nothing yet been learned?”   No, instead of recognising that these days club fan bases can be fractionalised we get the same old phrases like, “There are always a few idiots. That’s not our fan-base and we don’t even know who those people are.”

At Arsenal of course we do know, because of the membership scheme which means that every seat apart from at the away end is sold to a club member who can be identified.  But in the rest of the football world, it is as if nothing has happened over the years.   It is not just that the phrase “so-called fans” is meaningless, it is also so old.  Have we really had no new thinking over the last 20 years?   Well, not as far as the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, is concerned.  He thought all the old lines were worth churning out.

Alex Horne, general secretary of the FA, said: “We will look to ensure those involved are identified and we would call for criminal charges and a football banning order to be brought against them.The FA deplores the scenes which have taken place today, which are unacceptable.”

But as for the FA taking responsibility?  No chance.

The problem is the complete lack of understanding at what is going on in football these days.  Many clubs like Arsenal are divided into factions.  Now I am not in any way saying that AAA supporters at Arsenal would attack pro-Wenger supporters en masse, but the fact that three times this season I have seen outbreaks of anger between Arsenal fans shows that it is there, bubbling under the surface.  Normally what I see is dealt with by other fans telling everyone to shut up and sit down, but for a handful of people in the North Bank it went beyond that yesterday.

So when Dave Whelan says, “I can’t understand why the Millwall fans would fight each other. I understand if they want to fall out with the visiting team, but why would they fall out amongst themselves? It just gives football a very, very poor reputation,” one can only say, “Wake up to where we are.  Society has moved on; everyone has an opinion; but at the same time many of us have been utterly disenfranchised from the society of which we should be part.”

This is a society that cuts salaries, destroys jobs, and spends millions on the funeral of an ex-politician who was paid admirably well for her work.  It doesn’t matter whether you think the spending of that money on the funeral of Mrs Thatcher is right or wrong, the fact is the people involved in that event, the people who run this country, are utterly divorced from the reality of the vast majority for whom the weekend’s football was infinitely more important than a funeral on Wednesday. That is where the problem starts – and that is why the FA can’t see the need for them to accept total blame for not organising the event properly.
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They want all the glittering baubles of success and power, but they can’t do the hard work of understanding the social processes that swirl about in the world that they seek to rule and control.

7 comments to Wembley violence. It is time to act now.

  • nicky

    I sometimes despair at the appalling behaviour of fans at football matches. The game is the only sporting pastime where there is an association of violence by those not actually participating on the field of play.
    As one who has played and watched football since the mid 1930s, this senseless antagonism was rarely seen pre-WW2.
    Whether it is a natural replacement for our war-time enemies passed on by the adults, particularly parents, who lived through those violent years, I do not know.
    What I DO know is that unless steps are taken by the FA to curb the actions of certain clubs and fans, much of the professional game will sink into an abyss of outright violence, completely replacing the sporting spectacle.

  • Rufusstan

    The FA mismanaged the whole thing from start to finish, due to their need for money above all else.

    They allowed TV to dictate the kickoff (5.15), which allowed for an whole afternoon’s drinking time and made the place more unstable for whatever event kicked off the violence. How often have you seen an Arsenal–Spurs televised game at anything other than 12.30 for safety reasons.

    The late kickoff also screwed up Wigan fan’s chances to get home as the last train was apparently 7.30-8.30 (heard different accounts)

    They chose Wembley so they could sell the 90,000 or so tickets. That meant Millwall got 30,000 with an average gate of 10,000. They sold them all, and with no fingers pointed at Millwall it is near impossible to keep all of that many spare tickets out of the wrong hands.

    The stewarding may have had an impact, depending on where they were drawn from, experience or how prepared they were for the events.

    It is scary how easily they could have done a better job:

    Set it in Villa Park– better travel for the Wigan fans, not too far for the Millwall ones.

    Give each club 10,000 tickets and extend if more are needed– with 42,000 capacity you could both give clubs enough tickets to fulfill normal demand and have enough left over for the corporate needs.

    3pm or earlier kickoff based on travel needs.

    You could fill Villa Park, much better atmosphere and with a club environment you can handle any malcontents easier.

    If I can see that; how the hell did the FA not?

  • Gord

    The only “live” game I get now, is text commentary. Usually the BBC. But, unless Arsenal is playing, what’s the point? So I had little knowledge of the problems at Wembley.

    I am in western Canada, and not in a big city. But for any city in western Canada that runs a bus service, it is common that if the last bus is normally 11pm or 12am, on New Years Eve it is common to see bus service run until 3am. My city is about 60,000 people, and does this. Really, if Wembley has an event on, extending train service should at least be considered. How many times 60,000 is the Metro London population?

    All events should be adequately policed.

    From what I read, most of the violence was adjacent to the Royal section. I’ve no idea, does the Royal family get support such as the Secret Service in the USA? Should they have called for more support?

  • menace

    The choice of Wembley for semi finals has been historic. Arsenal and Spurs played there and the northern clubs complained that they did not get a fair shout as Wembley was like a warm up for the final. This is now the norm. The trouble in the stands is not the fault of the FA. It is their responsibility however, and they are liable for any damages caused to innocent fans. The FA have sufficient funds to control and police the stands.

    In my opinion the clubs should shoulder responsibility for those tickets sold through them. The purchasers can be suitably vetted and traced. Tickets not obtained through clubs are the responsibility of the FA and the fat cats that claim to support football. It is time they were brought to book and banned from the game.

  • Rufusstan

    Menace, there were only 7 semi-finals held at the old Wembley site in its entire history.

    The semis were traditionally always held at a neutral venue so you only needed a single game. They tried Wembley for the first time in ’91 because it was Arsenal–Spurs.

    Rather than make 40,000+ fans travel to Birmingham, or Manchester, or Liverpool with all the cost and travel issues it would cause, they tried using the stadium a couple of miles away from both clubs.

    They didn’t do it again until ’93 when it was Arsenal–Spurs again, but for fairness put both semis at Wembley.

    They tried it a couple of other times after that, lastly in 2000, but mostly its Old Trafford and Villa park (they used to use Highbury a lot, but never forgave us for refusing to put perimeter fences up).

    Wembley as a traditional semi venue has only come in with the new place, and for all the reasons mentioned above. — The new stadium has already hosted nearly twice as many semis as the old place ever did.

  • menace

    Rufusstan -the Wembley semis should not have included non London derbies. The cost to fans and the London councils are unnecessary. Neutral grounds were and are perfectly adequate.

    I just wish these authorities viewed officials in the same light and had more southern representation. It is tough having to win in spite of 11 plus players on the field sometimes.

    Thank God the assistant in the Norwich match was vigilant and honest.

  • Rufusstan

    Menace — don’t disagree with you, my point was just that, using Wembley was never a tradition (7 semis out of 154 in the old Wembley days).

    The only reason they use it now is down to money. They nearly bankrupted themselves building it so need the games at the stadium to try and pay it off. All semis at New Wembley started in 2008 and thats where it went wrong.

    The fans are equally screwed at the final, Manchester and Wigan fans having to come down to London for a 5.15 kickoff again (TV rules — more money) which leaves them a nightmare getting home.