On September 1st 2007, a little team in the Southeast of England had an away match at an arch-rival's ground.
The team was Charlton Athletic, and the ground was Selhurst Park.
These two teams have a fierce rivalry, born out of the events of 1987-1990, when strapped-for-cash Charlton were forced to move out of their ground, and ground-share with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
There are differing tales from both sides, always disputed. The Charlton stance is that Crystal Palace kept raising their prices for ground-sharing to the point were Charlton were on the verge of bankruptcy. The Palace stance is that Charlton should have known, given the circumstances Palace themselves were in, that money was an issue for both sides.
Further, over the years the two teams have battled in many memorable, sometimes controversial, matches.
September 1st 2007 was one of them. Finally, this week, after six months of police investigation, seven Crystal Palace supporters were jailed for a total of 18 years, and banned from attending football matches for a further 10 years, after their violent attacks on a commuter train that was carrying their targets—Charlton Athletic, fans.
It was in December that Southwark Crown Court heard that a group of 30 Crystal Palace fans planned an ambush on Charlton Athletic supporters, to take place at Sydenham Station, while the away supporters were traveling to the match.
The justice for the proceedings, Judge Robbins, told the charged men, "This was mob conduct at its worst. You give football a bad name, especially your team, Crystal Palace".
One of the offenders charged threw a bottle at one of the victims. The victim in question was not, however, a Charlton fan.
The point is this: The rivalry that cropped up between these two teams stems from bitterness. This week, the Charlton fans got some justice from an unprovoked attack by a small minority—that I guarantee you—of Crystal Palace fans. The rivalry that exists between the real fans nowadays is about as laughable as that between United and City—still a rivalry, but by no means something that you go around punching people for.
Charlton Athletic is my life and my soul, and I am sure many Crystal Palace fans will say the same thing. So let me say this, and plead:
When our teams next meet, let us embrace the fact that we are going for the same thing—a place in the top flight, playing top flight football. And let's put the past, this incident included, firmly in the past.
Football hooliganism is a blight on the great game. Worse, it comes from a distinct minority of fans. Every true football lover should consider it his or her duty to make sure they don't spoil it for the rest of us.
I only hope that in future matches (Roma vs. Manchester United comes to mind) we don't see anything worse.
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