I did not go to the game on Tuesday against Millwall. There were a variety of reasons : I am still protesting the clubs disgraceful decision to remove the two free Cup games from my season ticket some 12 years ago, I am trying to save a bit of money at present and it was the last in the series of Desperate Romantics with which I am rather taken (that's a joke before anyone firebombs my house).
But since the game and the surrounding hoopla I have been rather astounded at the level, and indeed the inaccuracy of the coverage. Old pros are wheeled out to deliver platitudes and say exactly what they think they should be saying rather than anything especially insightful, whilst columnists fall over themselves to deliver "stinging broadsides" about the death of the game yet all the while they are simply regurgitating the stale nonsense that they always spout. Research? Context? Not round here guv'nor.
To my mind, any analysis of the events of Tuesday needs to separate out clearly the events inside the stadium from those outside. Some fat losers running on to the pitch in order to get themselves on the tv hardly stands comparison to a man being stabbed while walking to a game.
So let's address the stuff inside first:
Inside The Madness
One key element about this game which has been overlooked in the rush to judgement is that it kicked off at 7.45pm. A whole day and evenings worth of drinking was done prior to this match and without the contributions of Messrs Stella and Artois I imagine that things might have turned out a little differently. Prior encounters in the Championship involved Sunday morning kick offs and mounted Police by the battalion. Here, with the benefit of booze there seems to have been a groundswell of enmity which manifested itself in the second half tussles by the Dr Martens Stand.
Look, I wasn't there so I can't comment with authority but everyone I have spoken to says that the atmosphere in the ground was crackling. Slightly poisonous and certainly not friendly, but electric nonetheless. The scuffles in the corners were regrettable, but the posturing of teenagers and old men does not equal the death of English football. I post occasionally on the West Ham forum In The Brown Stuff and it was brilliantly described on there as follows:
"There is nothing quite as funny as the hate contorted face of a 19 year old, standing on a plastic seat, doing an estuary haka at the opposition fans separated by nothing other than a wall, a 30 yard DMZ, another wall, 300 stewards, 200 riot police and all the other supporters who are standing in front of him" - SurfaceAgentX2Zero
Amen to that. "Disgusting scenes" crowed Phil Thompson on Sky Sports. I'm sorry but I can't get worked up about this. Football supporters taunting and abusing each other? Wow. Some seats being chucked about? Begorrah. Certainly it's not a moment for the human race to capture for posterity and put into a time capsule, but it's not the Louisana Superdome either.
The pitch invasion is another matter entirely. I have no time for people who seek attention for themselves to the detriment of the broader cause and I hope they all get banned. These were grown men who should know better and young kids with little more than a sheep like tendency to follow the leader. I would harbour a guess that those who were on the pitch on Tuesday were not regular matchgoers. How could they be? Those of us who go each week know that the price for this transgression is a lifetime ban. Hardly worth it for the chance to appear on the back of the Metro whilst the country mocks your obesity.
I'm not condoning anyone who runs on the pitch. It's stupid. It's beyond my ability to explain. But I don't think it marks a watershed in the return of wide scale hooliganism. If you hold a public event and 25,000 people turn up then you run the risk of there being quite a few dickheads in that number. C'est la vie - ban them, fine them, move on and save the hyperbole for something worthwhile.
Outside, In The Darkness
Events outside Upton Park appear to be very different. Again, without actually being there I can't comment with authority (although that hasn't stopped anyone in the national media), but it's safe to say that things were a little hairy.
The standard line here is that if two groups of like-minded individuals want to get together and have a punch up, then why not? Let them do it. So long as no innocent people get involved then who the hell cares? And I can almost get on board with that. I don't understand it, and I don't want to be present, but if 300 guys want to go to a car park in Beckton for a scrap then frankly it doesn't bother me.
But the problem is that this doesn't seem to be what happens. A man was stabbed at a game of football last night. I can't reconcile that. A 44 year old man who was apparently taking his teenage sons to a game of football, and he was stabbed. Facts are hard to come by from the media (they are inconvenient when an agenda has to be pursued), but it seems he was a Millwall fan who was simply in the midst of a larger crowd and paid the price. I am certain that he wasn't walking along discussing the merits of Keynesian economics and making a peace sign, but still - stabbed?
Of course, this rivalry goes back a long way, to a 1926 dockers strike if you believe the legend, but it would be a mistake to assume that the varying factors that led to violence here would be repeated elsewhere. This was two teams with a hardcore support, in the midst of a long feud, meeting in midweek and not having played against each other for a while. Add in that Millwall had reduced numbers of tickets available, and that large numbers of regular West Ham fans seem to have stayed away, allowing a casual population to attend and I would say that you have the perfect storm for a bit of civil disobedience.
Also, consider that two days earlier we played tottenham without much incident and nobody foresaw the end of civilisation. I'm not condoning violence at football, and some of the indiscriminate stuff from Tuesday was disgraceful, but I also don't condone reactionary media reporting that deals solely in platitudes and half truths.
And while we're at it let's nail some myths:
This will cost us the World Cup!
The FA have announced their desire to host the 2018 World Cup. Shaun Custis of The Sun was proudly announcing to the world this morning that there is now a SERIOUS doubt about our ability to win the bid. Now bear in mind that the internecine politics of FIFA are such that winning a World Cup is largely related to the quality of bribes made to the various delegates who make the decision.
If hooliganism made any difference then neither Holland or Germany would ever host major tournaments, yet both have done so since 2000. Crowd violence makes no difference - football is much too corrupt for that I am afraid. And Shaun Custis is a fungus.
I should be able to take my kids to this game!
This isn't a myth, per se, as it really shouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility for a parent to take their child to a football game without fear of violence. Indeed it's commendable for those who decided not to be put off by the prospect of a bit of thuggery.
But here's the rub - I should be able to let my 4 year old play in my front yard. Sure it's open to the road but everyone should drive at the speed limit, and yes any passers by could grab her but those people should be locked up. Except that my ideals aren't those of the rest of the world so I can't do that, and I don't.
If you took your child to this game and were outraged at what you saw, then fair enough. If you took your child to this game and were surprised at what you saw, then you are naive in the extreme.
West Ham should be kicked out of the Cup! Or bombed!
This old chestnut. Perhaps we could get Lord Griffiths down so he can tell us what would have happened were it not for the pitch invasion.
Banning us from the tournament would be a huge step. Almost unprecedented considering the crime (I hesitate to say totally unprecedented as my memory only goes back so far), and certainly a decision that could have momentous consequences down the road. It won't happen but it's a nice easy soundbite for the faux outraged columnists to put into their articles.
This was the Police's fault!
I have yet to have it explained to me with conviction, how it can be the Police's fault if I make racist chants, or throw a bottle indiscriminately at a crowd or run on to the pitch after a goal. There is such a thing as personal responsibility and independent thought. It's kind of what sets us apart from the plants.
Sure, the Police could have done a better job of preventing the opportunities for these things to occur, but even so you don't get to blame someone else for your own actions. Well, unless you're a celebrity, obviously.
This was Junior Stanislas's fault for celebrating so ... well, at all!
Professor Phil Thompson again, criticising 19 year old Junior Stanislas for not realising how his celebration would incite a pitch invasion and a "riot" and the sacking of Constantinople. Sounds reasonable. Oh no, wait...it's actually bollocks once again.
Phil was saying all this whilst commentating for Sky Sports. They obviously condemn any kind of football violence as evidenced by the adverts they were carrying for the new hooligan film "The Firm" and the fact that they showed "Green Street" for several months on their movie channels. You see, they hate football violence. Unless it's profitable.
It was disrespectful to Jack Collison!
Many media types were aghast that fans were running on the pitch while Jack Collison was suffering through the loss of his father. Try as I might I am unable to find any kind of link between these two things. If you take that line of thinking further, then it was also disrespectful to Calum Davenport but I haven't heard anyone mentioning that. Running on the pitch is stupid, it doesn't matter who is playing on the pitch at the time.
West Ham fans are in good shape!