From the Russian violence during the Euros over the summer, to the recent troubles that have been seen at the London stadium; violence and hooliganism has raised its ugly head yet again in the world of football.
Since the days of the film “Green Street”, fan violence and dodgy cockney accents have been associated with the Hammers. Following last season’s hooliganism directed at the Manchester United team bus, things have gotten worse since the move to the ‘London Stadium’.
But is the fantastically eye-catching stadium fit for purpose?
The EFL Cup tie against Chelsea got dangerous in stoppage time, when the visiting supporters made for the exit and a number of Irons fans from the adjacent space rushed over towards them, raising the prickly question, how were they able to do so? Aren’t football fans long since segregated for safety reasons?
A large amount of stewards who formerly worked at Upton Park have now been drafted in to help stop violence at West Ham matches.
The stewards, who have previously been accused of lacking the experience to manage a football crowd, held their line and the response of the police was swift – in under 60 seconds they had officers in riot gear on the scene. The rival fans were, fortunately, kept from coming to blows – but still close enough for missiles to be thrown, including ripped-up seats. How can this happen?
There have been issues raising the lay-out of the former Olympic stadium, and the club’s actions.
West Ham boss Slaven Bilic called the behaviour “unacceptable”, adding: “We are totally against it as a club.” The club will impose a life ban on any fans involved and is confident it can identify those responsible via its high-definition CCTV system and through fans’ ticket purchasing history. Security was boosted for the London derby and an alcohol ban imposed as part of a “robust policing plan” following previous crowd trouble, however, despite the police response being much faster, violence still erupted in the first place, which caused logistical questions to be asked.
There have been other calls bringing the London stadium into question, originally built for the London Olympics, confidence in its’ ability as a football ground is ebbing away. For example, the Airwave radio system that allows the police to communicate safely will not be fully operational in the stadium until February, it was recently revealed. Until then, contingency measures will have to suffice. How is that the case? It’s hardly as if the Hammers moved there on a whim, it has been in the planning since before the 2012 Olympics, how was this overlooked?
Now, allow me to speak as I usually do, through the eyes of a disgruntled Stoke fan. During the mid- 90s and the early 2000s, the reputation of football hooligans coming from the Potteries and the locally legendary ‘naughty forty’ gang (I’m told they were scarier than the name would suggest) was extended to all of us in red and white. It was dangerous, not a bit of fun, my father was even forced to hurdle an approximately 6”5’ wall due to the Port Vale fans chasing him from the stadium during a local derby, similarly, he and his friends were ran out of Blackburn when mistaken for the infamous football ‘firm’. This might all sound off topic, we’re talking about West Ham here, right? But my point is this, I go to every Stoke game at home that I can, I went to watch Manchester City, where we got slaughtered 4 – 1, and Tottenham, when we were even more useless and came in at 4 – 0. But there was no violence to be seen. In fact, the only thing Stoke fans have done to gather media attention in recent times was a bad taste chant about Aaron Ramsey and walking with a limp. 20 years ago there would have been uproar.
Now, as the two teams met last week in a totally uninspiring 1 – 1 draw, the main thing to talk about was again, the stadium.
What can the Hammers learn from the Potters? Well, largely important in the quelling of Stoke City fan violence was the move to the Britannia stadium (now the Bet365 stadium), which segregates fans by its very design, the away end is completely cut off from the home support, you literally cannot get into it without running around the ground or over the pitch – so no chance of a charge when away fans are leaving like we saw in the West Ham v Chelsea incident.
Similarly, when the away end has home support in it, the atmosphere is incredible, and the netting is placed past two lines of stewards. I’ve obviously never tried, but if I’d decided I wanted to try to run into a wall of Tottenham fans that day, I think I’d have got two paces in before getting unceremoniously taken out. I say that because I saw one Stoke fan try it and honestly it was the most entertaining part of my afternoon. So, with that being said, my mind boggles as to how this happened.
Segregation remains a problem at the London Stadium.
My only guess is that an athletics stadium was not built with hooligans in mind. Obviously, the logical conclusion is that grown men stop fighting and throwing broken chairs at each other. Whenever people tell me to calm down because “it’s only a game” my blood boils – it isn’t, it’s so much more than that – and that’s why losing your season ticket, and also your dignity, for throwing a plastic bottle and someone who happens to be wearing a different colour shirt than you is such an unbelievably stupid thing to do.
The stadium doesn’t help, but it can be improved, the minority that ruin it for everybody need to grow up and just do what the rest of us do – sing funny songs about the other team, have a pie, and go home feeling grumpy.
By James Doherty
Images from: WikiMedia Commons