Sunday, 14 April 2013

Millwall fans pay morbid tribute to Thatcher....

Millwall failed to unearth a shot on target, but their fans got plenty away in the cavernous stands of the new Wembley. Who said football wouldn't pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher at the weekend?

Those lovable array of ongoing ruffians from Millwall who fought each other during a sodden FA Cup semi-final with Wigan before switching focus to the bobbies are not really into being told what they can't and can't do. Handed down from father to son through the decades, they never have.

Rather than pay a minute's silence to former British Prime Minister Maggie, a contentious figure in the eyes of the national sport who passed away at the Ritz last week, the Millwall followers in the away end decided to go one better by unwittingly re-enacting rancid scenes from Thatcher's period in office in the 1980s that concluded with English clubs being thrown out of European football because fans could not behave properly.

And therein lies the problem for the Football Association when they get around to picking up the pieces of the mayhem that visited the home of English football in lamentable images being spewed out live around the world on Saturday night: how do you punish a group of fans who don't seem to care, a section of society who never seem to have cared?

It was not quite the Kenilworth Road riot of 1985 that prompted Thatcher's Tory government to fraternise with the infamous membership card scheme for supporters in trying to root out the tumour of football hooliganism.

But this was a timely reminder that here remains a weeping sore in English football, an illness that is only ever lying dormant.

Rather than try to lift their side to greater heights against a technically more efficient Wigan side during a lop-sided 2-0 defeat, Millwall's fans were too busy getting naughty.

The naughty forties is the moniker some Stoke City casuals apparently deploy far from their gory 1980s peak, but there was plenty of older gents unveiling themselves on Saturday when the sport played second fiddle to some wretched scenes from yesteryear. Football hooliganism does not wither with age it seems.

Bare-chested fans with bloodied noses, coppers defending themselves with truncheons and the sight of young fans visibly distressed, one girl in tears particularly illustrated the descent, became part of Millwall's big night out at Wembley. If you can't beat them on the pitch, beat each other up off it. Then attack the rozzers.

One bloke even came cascading down the stands at the new Wembley with his equivalent of a scalp underneath a designer jacket. While kids were crying, he was busy laughing and relishing landing a policeman's hat. Who wants to watch football when you can spoil it for thousands of others turning up for the sport. Watching the Lions is a day out for the animals.

"That has been our greatest challenge. We want to try to work hard to keep momentum going. If crowd trouble is going to be continually brought up with Millwall it will hold us back," said the Millwall manager Kenny Jackett. His was an understatement.

Bobby Robson apparently once said that the police should have turned "flamethrowers" on Millwall fans after hooligans attacked their own fans during an FA Cup match with his Ipswich side in the late 1970s. A sort of football equivalent of cannibalism.

Water cannon was needed at Wembley on Saturday. Either that or grapeshot.

Millwall's Nigerian captain Danny Shittu was asked about the incident. "Today was meant to be a good day out at Wembley," he said. "Things like that shouldn’t be going on."

But what must he think about playing in front of such fans, some of who were heard spouting some horrendous racist abuse towards the Leeds forward El Hadji Diouf earlier this season.

It was Millwall fans who prompted Thatcher's government to convene a meeting of the war cabinet to tackle football hooliganism three decades ago after an infamous FA Cup tie at Luton turned into a battlefield with riots in the streets ahead of the match at the old Kenilworth Road before running battles and further fights with policemen in the stands and on the pitch.

81 were injured that night, 31 policemen. One policeman was hit with a concrete brick on the head and almost died. A knife was found in the goalmouth among the debris of seats and fencing being torn down as Millwall followers, with Chelsea and West Ham United fans hauled up in court as part of their travelling contingent, engaged in running battles with the police.

Luton’s modern, all-seated ground is a monument to what went on that night from the dark ages of English football. But are we really seeing the light?

Millwall should know who did what from CCTV footage and their ticketing list. A heavy fine and several matches behind closed doors seems the obvious answer. At least in next season’s FA Cup. Millwall are already talking about life bans for the offenders. Whether or not this will have much of an effect is a moot point.

There is a poison at the heart of this club. In the absence of a decent embalmer and a ventriloquist, Alex Horne stepped in for Ted Croker, an FA secretary whose name became synonymous with the English disease of the 1980s. It was a familiar response.

“The FA and Wembley Stadium will work with police and representatives of Millwall to review all events," said the FA’s general secretary. "We will look to ensure those involved are identified and we would call for criminal charges and a football banning order to be brought against them."

This was an attack on authority as much as anything else. From anarchists more than football fans. It will be interesting to see how many make it back for Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday.

Football should be a sport to be enjoyed by the family. But kids, the very lifeblood of the game, should not be forced to spend the evening crying during a night out to watch their local team. The soul of football was abused on a dank evening.

For that reason, the inglorious bastards must not be allowed to win.

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