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Now pass the blame and don't blame me

Filed: Thursday, 27th August 2009
By: Staff Writer

Violence erupted outside the Boleyn Ground on Tuesday night as West Ham and Millwall fans clashed in the streets having been given the opportunity to meet once again courtesy of the Carling Cup second round draw.

Since then we've been treated to a series of examples of 'buck-passing' by the authorities for scenes that have been referred to as 'the worst in more than 30 years'.

Of course, some West Ham supporters and some Millwall supporters are far from angels - and thus has it ever been. However Tuesday night's events were mostly avoidable - whilst the reactions of those who are culpable for failing to prevent it escalating, predictable.

Less than 48 hours after the draw was made on August 12th, the Football League, based upon Police advice, agreed to inexplicably slash Millwall's ticket allocation from some 3,500 to 1,500. This decision was immediately attacked by the club’s managing director Andy Ambler who warned: "Our concern is that a large number of Lions fans without tickets for the Millwall section will travel the short distance to Upton Park in any case and attempt to see the game any way they can. It would seem to us to be far more sensible to give as many Millwall supporters the chance to watch the match safely and securely within the visitors' section at the ground."

Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what happened. Groups of ticketless Millwall fans and West Ham fans clashed around the stadium both before, during and after the game - and sadly, at least one of those individuals ended up in hospital with knife wounds (a deplorable act regardless of who was responsible). Would this have been prevented had the Football League not interfered with Millwall's allocation?

Why of course not, according to the FL's chief operating officer Andy Williamson who was in no mood to accept any responsibility for the disturbances when he said:

"We utterly deplore the violence that took place at the match between West Ham United and Millwall. Such behaviour has no place in the game and we will work with all the relevant authorities to ensure that those behind it are held to account. Football has made huge progress in the last 30 years in the management of football matches and the whole game must continue to demonstrate that such behaviour will not be tolerated."

It was a similar story with the Metropolitan Police too. Whilst it should be stressed that these figures remain unconfirmed, reports put the initial police presence on the night at around 500 - a figure said to be less than that which had policed West Ham's lunchtime clash with Tottenham 48 hours earlier!

If this was indeed the case, what on Earth were the Met thinking? West Ham v Tottenham, whilst carrying a little added edge in recent years doesn't even come close to the first visit from Millwall in five years. Additionally, the Spurs game was an early Sunday kick off, as opposed to a Tuesday evening where some fans had made the most of the opportunity to drink all day long.

Clearly the Police presence was entirely ineffective, as illustrated by a BBC reporter situated on Green Street who described how those officers present failed to keep rivals fans apart as a melee erupted outside the Queens pub. It was a similar story inside the stadium, as the Met were too stretched to prevent Hammers followers from running on to the pitch towards the end of the game.

This was naturally a surprise to all those who had been told in a statement prior to the game: "The MPS has a great deal of experience in policing high profile football matches in London. We will continue to liaise with both clubs and an appropriate policing plan will be in place for the match.”

Well it quite clearly wasn't - and many of those who live or work around the stadium and were affected as a result would like to know why.

But once again the PR machines rumbled into life in response to the night's events. Chief Superintendent Steve Wisbey fended off criticism when he informed us that: "We are committed to providing a safe and trouble free environment for fans who attend matches to support their teams. Incidents of this nature at a match are thankfully rare." Despite the rhetoric, it's a view unlikely to be shared by those who found themselves in and amongst the two sets of fans as a result of the woefully inadequate Police numbers.

Elsewhere we saw the Minister for Sport, Gerry Sutcliffe condemning supporters of the two clubs whilst delivering the same tired lines as those also keen to avert any responsibility for the night's events. "We have made great progress in the past 20 years in tackling football hooliganism in this country and we will not tolerate any return to the dark days of the 70s and 80s when it plagued the game," he bleated. "We will never be complacent in the fight against football violence."

Well we can only assume Sutcliffe had his fingers crossed when he made that statement given his and his department's apparent lack of involvement prior to the match itself and subsequent public outcry.

You may be wondering why I have thus far largely ignored the events that occurred inside the stadium. The reason is simple - despite a plethora of reports to the contrary, there were virtually no unusual levels of violence during the game. Yes a handful of the 24,000 fans present clashed with stewards and yes, a few more were arrested by Police. But this happens at virtually every game at the Boleyn, and at almost every other ground around the country to varying degrees week in, week out. To pretend otherwise helps nobody.

Those individuals who ran onto the pitch were not hooligans, nor yobs as claimed by a tabloid that shall remain nameless. The vast majority of them ran on to celebrate the goals and then the final whistle. Misguided, foolish, idiotic even - but violent thugs? Not in a million years. Let's be honest, most of those caught on camera look as if they'd run a mile in the event of a proper confrontation (excusing those who look like they'd have trouble running 100 yards, let alone a mile).

However even the BBC fell into the trap of using footage of this to describe the events that occurred outside the stadium - whilst the Mail followed a similar path. However the award for the most laughable example of reporting came from Sky Sports who had a reporter literally scouring the streets of E6 for pieces of wood and broken bottles that 'may have been used in the violence last night'.

Obviously without the presence of supporters from the two clubs none of this would have happened - this cannot and should not be disregarded. But for the Police, the Government and the Football Association/Football League to pass the buck having failed so spectacularly to act accordingly - especially in a fixture that has carried bad blood for more than a century and that anyone could see was a recipe for disaster - is a clear failing of their public duties and for that, the likes of Andy Williamson, Chief Superintendent Steve Wisbey and Gerry Sutcliffe should be held entirely responsible.

A little perspective? Arrest numbers at recent major events

Number of arrests at Glastonbury, 2009: 116

Number of arrests on the opening day of last year’s Notting Hill Carnival: 98

Number of arrests at the G20 protests, London, April 2009: 32

Number of arrests during West Ham Utd v Millwall, August 2009: 13

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by Loppy
10:22AM 29th Aug 2009
''Bingo :)

The policing figures were, I'm told, 350 Police Constables, 24 Police Horse and 2 Police Helicopters. We were short 650 Constables; where were they? Talk about policing on the cheap.''

by rugby irons
11:53AM 28th Aug 2009
''Why haven't WHUFC stood and said the same as this excellent piece? We will get a heavy fine or some other inane punishment and the authorities will lap it up. WHUFC should be at them now standing for their own corner instead of coweing behind a wall of silence. It's a disgrace.''

by Pete
08:17AM 28th Aug 2009
''You make lots of valid points, but undermine them by using arrest figure comparisons with other events. As pointed out above, the Police aren't able to, or going to arrest each and every person who is misbehaving. That will come later after the CCTV has been reviewed. So many good points being made in recent articles but please don't undermine them - you lose credibility. Certainly if what I saw on TV INSIDE the ground (and yes I know all the real trouble was OUTSIDE the ground) is 'normal', then I won't be taking my kids to see West Ham (or many other teams) for a little while longer. I'll miss the passion - I know that, but I won't miss the stuff that goes on.''

by FGS
07:47AM 28th Aug 2009
''I can't believe we are trying to excuse ourselves for what happened the other night on account of the authorities only having 350 police allocated. We sound like rapists who say their victims deserved it because she was wearing a short skirt.''

by g portugal
06:25AM 28th Aug 2009
''Good piece. Kicks the excrement out of low-life, low-rent, billy bankrupt, nobby no brains gutter press.''

by SamH
12:04AM 28th Aug 2009
''Both slashing the allocation, and letting more in during the game itself - subseqently leading to the police having to widen the Millwall allocation so as making the two sets of fans closer together really didn't help things.

Prevention rather than reaction could really have changed a lot.''

07:24PM 27th Aug 2009
''That won't be the total number of arrests but regardless it has been blown way out of the water. The whole story has not been told. ''

by john kelly
03:45PM 27th Aug 2009
''Thank you for this article. You practically agree with everything I've been saying since the draw was made.

It was a mess waiting to happen then through stupidity made worse!''

by Bobby Robertson
02:49PM 27th Aug 2009
''Agree with everything, the authorities cocked it right up.''

by Deane
02:37PM 27th Aug 2009
''As always those responsible for crowd safety (a job they are well rewarded for) cry 'not our fault, it's down to despicable football fans' (very effective propaganda from the media) so we suffer the sanctions (all seater stadia, club fines, sanctions) whilst those decision makers who make the tragic errors go scott free (Hillsborough).

Funny how in this case recommendations from West Ham were overruled but now the club has to pay the price.''

by marleeen depreciation society
02:32PM 27th Aug 2009
''I don't think the number of arrests is relevent at all. If the police are struggling to maintain order, one or two of them dissappearing with someone they've arrested leaves them even shorter in numbers so generally that doesn't happen. Let's be honest, if they had enough numbers to cope, all those so called fans throwing things and trying to surge the police ranks by the Queens in green street would have ended up in the back of a police van.

The big question for me is.... how come any West Ham or Millwall fan would be able to easily predict what was going to happen but those responsible for allocating police numbers couldn't when it's their job to do just that?

There is currently a tug of war between the FA and the club and the MPS about who should pay for extra police numbers as the councils and the police don't see why it should come out of their budget to police the streets after every game. I personally don't understand the principle behind this. Will the police be asking for extra money from the o2 arena every time there is a concert now, and will it come down to every pub having to cough up for extra police at closing time in case those drunk enough cause trouble?

In the meantime us normal fans will be the ones to suffer, who'd want to take their kids now after all if all that happens again?''

by Elysium
01:32PM 27th Aug 2009
''Obviously something else that really hasnt helped is Hollywood glamorising the West Ham/Millwall rivalry in films like Green Street Hooligans which pretty much does't display the violence and the rivalry as anything "bad"... but more of a "this is how friends stick together" message.

Personally I think such films that have included West Ham/ICF themes recently have contributed to such events, including out trip to the U.S.A last season. I have many American friends who watch such films and tell me a lot of American "soccer fans" have the outlook that ALL West Ham fans are firm-minded and that ALL West Ham fans think they are "hard" and looking for a fight to prove some kind of superiority ...

It's been 5 years since the last West Ham/Millwall meeting? And nothing of this scale happened in the last 2 meetings ... and while "movies and other media" cannot be solely to blame for such events they surely haven't helped by both intensifying and glamorising the fierce rivalry between the fans.

Also another thing that is really annoying me is the media/FA/police statements of shock/horror/outcry .... that this wasnt something they ever expected. As soon as that draw was made, with the history of violence between the clubs... Either the game should have been played behind closed doors or it should have been a home fans only match - and the game SHOULD have been shown live on TV to encourage many to stay away from the stadium (although this wouldnt have deterred those looking for violence).

Yes it was shameful, yes it was wrong - but don't sit there acting all shocked and horrified. What on earth was you expecting? Handshakes? They knew what was coming but just hoped it wouldn't be too bad.''

by Stu
01:25PM 27th Aug 2009
''Very well said!

Can't add much to that, except it is a very accurate description of the events, as far as I can tell. Far more accurate than any other piece I have seen in the media, which seems intent on whipping up the hype, whilst conveniently ignoring a lot of the facts.''

by Tom
01:10PM 27th Aug 2009
''Probably the best article I've seen about the night, direct and to the point. I very much doubt it will change in the public eye though. The Met, the FA and the FL will simply duck and dive responsibility as they always do.

I sincerely hope we sign two top strikers now and sit sweet in the top half of the league and allow the Claret n Blue Army to sing aloud and show the authorities who we really are and who they really failed.

I just find it inconceivable that those in authority contrived to turn a blind eye and allow this to happen. The football club now has a moral duty to shine the light of blame on those that blatantly failed us as a football club and we as paying fans.

I would like to say to the Millwall players and staff, I say 'thankyou' for giving us an outstanding game, you were the better team on the night. There are many managers that when you gone went a goal down in extra time would have left the pitch, bleating for a rematch and trying get the game abandoned. Your proffesionalism in moving out of the way then resuming play as quickly as possible is comendable.

Finally to Jack Collison, I am a British soldier and proud of who I am and what I do for my country. It will be an honour to wear your name and number on the back of my West Ham shirt.''

by MattDam
12:59PM 27th Aug 2009
''Can I just thank the journalist for this peice, it's spot on and exactly what needed to be said. I love West Ham but I am not a thug, I am a family man but knew this was not the type of fixture to bring children to. We all knew that this fixture would require extra policing and that all the old hooligans would be out for trouble so why didn't anybody else understand? And what now, West Ham will be made an example of yet again and possibly punished severely whilst the true fans suffer.

Now all the fans from other clubs are jumping on the bandwagon to blame us for possibly losing the 2018 World Cup. It's time an article like this was published on BBC News for everyone to see the story from all sides.''

by IronRik
12:53PM 27th Aug 2009
''A well constructed article. I was told that last time we played Millwall 900 officers were in place - an initial number of 350 seems madness, especially as last time we played them it was a lunch time kick-off.

The people that did invade the pitch showed very little aggression, instead maybe intoxicated celebration.''

by se16
12:52PM 27th Aug 2009
''As a 'Wall fan reading that I have to say it is spot on. The Old Bill have to be held accountable for what happened.

I got in the ground at 8 o'clock and they had all but given up outside. Chief Superintendent Steve Wisbey should be the first in the dock, he was in charge and made a total pigs ear of it.''

by FGS
12:47PM 27th Aug 2009
''This story appears to be condoning Tuesday's events on the basis that the police only sent 250 officers and that the fans on the pitch were a little over enthusiastic.. The only PR machine spinning here is KUMB defending the indefensible. I have been a Hammer for over 45 years and the only thing I find more disgusting than the sights of the other evening are the inane ramblings of support for those who took part.

BTW at Notting Hill Carnival last year there were 2.5m in the crowd and over 150,000 at Glastonbury this year. The 13 arrests for the Millwall game is going to rise significantly so when put in perspective the argument wears thin.''

by aphammer
12:38PM 27th Aug 2009
''I disagree with your staff writer regarding those who ran on the pitch after the goals and at the end of the match. The majority of the WEST HAM supporters wanted these idiots/thugs to leaved the pitch by shouting 'off off off'. Shame on your writer for his attempts to justify this act. Was he the leader of those who ran on the pitch? Why do you use such people to write articles on use site to justify hooliganism in the stadium?''

by James Baker
12:36PM 27th Aug 2009
''Good article; very good arguments.''

by percy bogtotter
12:31PM 27th Aug 2009
''On this occasion I have to disagree with you. The idiots that ran onto the pitch has brought the club into disrepute. They are an embarrasment to WHU. They should be prosecuted and thrown out if they are season ticket holders.

With regards to matters outside the ground I would be interested to ascertain if this was a mix of left wing/right wing political agitators looking for a punch-up and maybe totally unrelated to football except when it suits.

There is a concern that the Met and WHU have not acted upon intelligence and that is a concern. However the blame lies fair and square with the mindless idiots who ran on the pitch and those that formed part of rent a mob. Don't blame the Met entirely for the idiots that claim to be West Ham and Millwall supporters.''

by Pedro
12:26PM 27th Aug 2009
''Thank God, a balanced view. I was there on Tuesday and totally agree, the press have jumped on this like nobody's business. As for Phil Thompson on SkySports, talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Seeing as how it wasnt televised he was supposed to be offering the viewers a true reflection of the events. I heard less excitable commentary about the Iraq war.''

by Richard WHUFC
12:16PM 27th Aug 2009
''Although slashing the allocation didn't help, it can't be the sole reason. There where plenty of West Ham 'fans' there who had no intention of going to the game.''

by VW
12:14PM 27th Aug 2009
''Excellent post.''

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