By Tony Attwood
From a security point of view Everton v Arsenal was a security disaster. Everyone knew that Everton fans would bring flares and/or smoke bombs just as they and their Liverpool FC counterparts had done before. We all knew that Tottenham fans had been able to throw coins and other missiles at medical staff and there had been no obvious response.
Anyone interested also knew that some Everton fans justified the setting off of flares and/or smoke bombs on the grounds that Arsenal fans did the same at other grounds and/or Arsenal fans threw missiles at Everton fans.
Everyone knew that the response of security staff and stewards at Arsenal at previous games involving Liverpool and Everton in terms of flares and smoke bombs had been minimal. The sight of a handful of stewards trying to push past hostile fans after the event was to say the least embarrassing and ineffectual.
The single response of the Arsenal had come from the Safety Committee made up of the police and club representatives, which cut Everton’s seat allocation very slightly on safety grounds. Everton appealed against this but it has been impossible to find out what the basis of their appeal was. It had to be something to do with safety, but it was impossible to see what. All the publicity about the appeal I said spoke of “playing fair” – nothing about keeping the stadium safe.
True Everton did issue a warning on their web site about not bringing flares and smoke bombs. They did the same last year but obviously their action, like Arsenal’s is having the opposite effect. Neither gave reasons as to why they had appealed against the reduction in numbers. The warnings and the appeal appear contradictory.
So today we had the game – and even before kick off the first flare was ignited. Security staff flapped around, and the response was clearly inefficient, since when Everton scored flares or smoke bombs went off across the area that housed the Everton fans. Arsenal FC had been utterly incapable of securing the area.
Now you might expect, in the light of this disaster, the fifth break down in good order within the stadium this season, there would be immediate enquiries, questions asked of security staff and stewards.
By chance I can say that there was nothing of the kind. Walter and I stayed on in the upper tier after the game, comparing our thoughts on the game, exchanging family news and so on. We moved down from the upper tier maybe an hour or so after the final whistle and we passed the security staff gathered together. Were they in debriefing meetings? Were they answering enquiries on why they had utterly failed to secure the ground and stop the flares and smoke bombs going off – given that they had known this would happen?
Not a bit. They were chatting happily, and as we passed, were given the all clear to leave the ground. They seemed thoroughly jolly.
So why is it that the control of away support at Emirates has now broken down? Four domestic matches with flares and/or smoke bombs going off and one with coins and other objects being thrown at ambulance staff. (I’m excluding stories I have been told of other outbreaks of trouble at the Emirates this season simply because I am writing about what I have seen either in person or on TV in relation to domestic games. If there have been other problems involving supporters of Arsenal or the away teams, these are to be condemned as well – but one outbreak does not excuse another.)
For the moment it seems Arsenal have no response. Reducing the number of supporters apparently happened at the Tottenham game, and this match against Everton, but it just made the matter worse.
I suggested before that each time there is an incident like this the number of supporters for that team for the next game should be cut in half – clearly the reductions we have seen thus far have been nothing like that. As it stands I can’t think of what else can be done.
It was interesting that when I have covered this topic before some Everton and Tottenham supporters wrote in and said that the number of tickets available for away support is only reduced because Arsenal are afraid of the volume of noise generated by the away support. It seems a silly argument to me, in that it has no evidence to support it, while the existence of the flares or smoke bombs is there for all to see. (It is a bit like the people who wrote in suggesting that this site’s protests against the problems generated by Everton supporters were invalid because I didn’t know the difference between a flare and a smoke bomb. I guess if someone died they might argue that debate about the point was invalid if the weapon wasn’t correctly defined. The reality is that the effect is the issue. Smoke bombs and flares are dangerous. Throwing coins in dangerous. Who cares if blindness is caused by a smoke bomb or a flare. Who cares if the perpetrator threw a pound coin or a two pound coin?)
I suppose much of the trouble does go back to Jamie Carrigher, who threw a coin at the crowd from the pitch in January 2002. The coin had been thrown by a member of the crowd, and he was duly arrested and charged. Carragher’s offence – much more serious as it was much more likely to cause personal injury – which indeed it did – resulted in a sending off, but there was no subsequent police action of ban from the ground (which happened to the member of the crowd).
The failure of Arsenal to take action then was a sign of significant weakness by the club, and here we are now 12 years later once again dealing with Merseyside clubs over issues of danger.
The situation is escalating, and we can expect at the next Merseyside match not five or six devices being ignited but many many more. Indeed given the copycat nature of many supporters of lesser intellectual ability, we can expect the problem to spread – until such time as Arsenal take activity.
Watching stewards trying to push their way into the packed crowds at the away end, long after the incident, only for the incident to be repeated from the same spot a little later, is a supreme embarrassment. We are supposed to be proud of the Emirates stadium – but the fact is whenever they want to be, the away fans of Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham, are out of control. Just like Carragher was when he threw a coin at the crowd, 12 years ago.
If Arsenal had a solution, they would have introduced it for this game. That they did not shows they absolutely have no way of making the Emirates a safe stadium for the watching of football.
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