Why violence has nothing to do with football

Last weekend saw the ugly face of football return to our screens as fans clashed with police in Wembley and Newcastle.

Newcastle United have released a statement outlining their ‘embarrassment’ at the violence the club described as ‘appalling’, after supporters of the North East club were involved in violent and disturbing scenes after their team’s 3-0 defeat in the Tyne-Wear derby with Sunderland.

Four police officers were reportedly injured and 29 people were arrested.

That was on Sunday but mere hours earlier on Saturday, Millwall supporters clashed with police and stewards after a disturbance had broken out following what now is being reported as a feud between two families.

I must say I have been to the Den and watched Millwall play Fulham many years ago – in fact Kevin Keegan was the Fulham manager back then, that’ll place it somewhere in the late ‘90s.

The atmosphere was hostile and tense, much as one might expect of any London derby but this one was a little different. There was an edge. Millwall fans have earned themselves a reputation that precedes them but the days when violence and rioting were commonplace had appeared to be gone.

I assumed, probably wrongly, that these incidents were a thing of the past – a relic – and that the odd rare incident was exactly that; odd and rare.

However, in the past year I have witness a number of ‘incidents’ personally that had a certain ‘edge’ to them. I have seen Chelsea fans smash up a pub in Earl’s Court in May – they threw glasses, celery, and broke furniture – and that’s a game they’d won.

I have seen traffic stopped outside The Globe on Baker Street as West Ham fans threw missiles into the street, hitting passing cars and intimidating pedestrians. They occupied an island in the middle of a junction and got in the way of everything and everyone around them. The pub had to close early.

I’m not going to take any moral high ground or assert any bias for or against any club’s fans. This has absolutely nothing to do with football. I once worked for a man who had had been a professor in memetics and he studied people in groups, rather than as individuals.

I believe he was right when he told me that most individuals are intelligent, empathetic and well-meaning but people in groups are f***ing stupid. People in large groups under the influence of alcohol are even more suggestible.

What would seem like a terrible idea in the stone cold sober light of day sounds like a right laugh after eleven pints of your poison of choice, surrounded by a dozen or more of your mates who are also, to put it bluntly, steaming. It's no coincidence most of these events happen in or in the vicinity of public houses.

This has nothing to do with football. This has nothing to do with class or income or occupation. This has to do with, and forgive me my generalization here but, men with behavioral issues mixed with alcohol mixed with other men with behavioral issues mixed with alcohol times by several thousand.

That is always going to be a recipe for disaster. Whether their team wins or loses doesn’t even enter into the equation.

I reckon if you met one of those fans involved in trouble at Wembley or St James’ Park last weekend a week later, by which time they’d have likely sobered up, you may well find a mild-mannered and considered individual with an interest in football.

You might find you’d have a lot in common. Until Saturday comes round again, that is.

image: © Heart of Oak

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