Violence at West Ham vs. Millwall Blown Out of Proportion
Last night saw the main bulk of Carling Cup second-round matches take place, but events on the field were overshadowed by fan behavior at the West Ham vs. Millwall tie.
Before the match even kicked off, there were reports of violence outside the ground between these two London rivals. One 44-year-old man was stabbed in the chest and had to go to hospital.
But the trouble didn't stop outside the stadium.
There were three pitch invasions throughout the course of the match by a relatively large group of West Ham fans.
The first came after Junior Stanislas equalised for the Hammers in the dying moments of the match to send it into extra-time.
Another goal from the same player, this time from the penalty spot, prompted another, more serious, pitch invasion. Referee Paul Taylor took the players off while the stewards worked to contain the invaders.
The third goal and final whistle sparked yet another pitch invasion, with the West Ham fans in question looking to incite their Millwall counterparts in the away end.
Pitched battles outside the stadium continued during the match and after it as well, with police struggling to handle the volatile mix.
The reprehensible actions of these football hooligans have been widely condemned by all involved in football, and rightly so, but can anyone reasonably say it came as a surprise?
Both Millwall and West Ham have notorious football firms, and when the two meet, there will always be fireworks.
The FA tried to quell this inevitability by reducing Millwall's ticket allocation, but those without a ticket simply tried to make trouble outside the ground.
Although hooliganism is a much smaller problem now than in its heyday some 30 years ago, there are times when the police have to focus on damage limitation rather than out and out prevention.
Last night was one of them.
To be fair to them, they did a very good job limiting the damage. Things could have been a lot worse then they actually were, so they should be applauded for their efforts.
Should there have been a bigger police presence at the Upton Park station and other notorious "battlefields?" Perhaps, but there was always going to be some sort of trouble.
So why do I think it has been blown out of proportion?
Simple. I have read numerous comments about how football is going to regress to the dark days of the 1970s and '80s, when hooliganism was rife across the country.
It will not. West Ham vs. Millwall matches happen very rarely, and when they do, it is a big occasion for the minority of fans who prefer fighting to watching football.
Last night was a one-off.
However, it does not reflect well on the country as a whole. Other countries have a bigger problem with hooliganism than England, yet it is England which has the worst reputation.
Last night's events will bring that to the forefront of everyone's mind once again, not least those deciding where the 2018 World Cup will be held.
It is entirely possible that the problems at Upton Park yesterday will come under scrutiny by that panel, and it may play a big part in their decision.
There will be consequences and serious ramifications.
To clarify, I don't think the authorities are overreacting here. They need to do everything they can to avoid things like this happening again, and making an example out of those guilty this time would be a good way to do that.
It is the football fans around the country who are overreacting.
Suggestions from fans on the BBC web site include banning both clubs from all competitions this season and relegating them, deducting 30 points from each club (resulting in almost certain relegation), and declaring all their results void.
While a Carling Cup ban and fines may be in order, the above suggestions are massive overreactions in my opinion.
There is no need to batten down the hatches just yet. We aren't returning to the dark days of football hooliganism.
That being said, the actions of those last night cannot be excused, and the minority who caused the trouble should be suitably punished.
What punishments, if any, do you think should be dished out to a) the pitch invaders; and b) the clubs?
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