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Millwall and Newcastle not symptomatic of new English Disease


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Football is our national sport here in the UK, and as such, it means an awful lot to an awful lot of people.

Every week, almost a million people are welcomed through the gates of league and non-league football stadiums up and down the country. It’s an intrinsic part of so many people’s lives; some get the club crest tattooed over their heart, others name their child after footballing heroes, and a few go as far as to get married on the pitch. The overwhelming majority of people that enjoy football enjoy it in a friendly, peaceful and positive manner.

That’s precisely why it’s so damning when the minority make the headlines for football violence.

Last weekend (13th-14th April) two high-profile incidents reopened the debate on football hooliganism. During Saturday’s FA cup semi-final between Millwall and Wigan, Millwall fans attacked each other. Two men, drunk, began arguing, shoving each other into members of the crowd around them, including children. Their friends took sides. It was a noticeable amount of time before the police arrived, supposedly as they’d been dealing with another incident, causing the men that were previously fighting to round jointly upon them. 14 arrests were made, under accusations of assault, affray, and possession of Class A drugs.

In Newcastle on Sunday, the Tyne-Weir derby was soured after Newcastle fans clashed with police in an attempt to reach Sunderland fans, on their way to the city’s Central Station. 29 arrests were made; footage showing fans throwing missiles, setting bins on fire, and one genuinely misguided fellow punching a police horse was broadcast around the country.

Together, the incidents could be used to paint a rather sorry picture of English football, and select sections of the media have chose to do exactly that.

But a step back and a cool head are needed for looking at these events, and placing them in the wider, peaceful context that English football has become. The national game is no longer overshadowed by the so called English disease; there isn’t fighting in the terraces every week, there aren’t premeditated meet-ups for a scrap between firms, and there certainly isn’t the sort of violence that has led to so many serious injuries and deaths in the past. These encounters are such big news precisely because it never happens anymore, precisely because the FA, the police and individual football clubs have worked together to eradicate it from the game. No one would have bat an eyelid over a few Millwall fans having a punch-up twenty years ago. It’s a testament to how far English football has come.

People are casting their nets very wide indeed looking for something to blame for what happened this weekend. Some blame the 5.15pm kick off at Wembley giving fans too long to drink before the game - but Chelsea and Manchester City kicked off at the same time the next day, and the only clashes occurred on the pitch. Others are blaming poor stewarding, poor policing... Cass Pennant, former football firm hooligan, is even citing the recession as the cause, drawing similarities between the disillusion of the 1980s and today. If there is any truth in that it would be less easily solved than changing a kick off time, but strangely, not enough people are blaming the few foolish individuals that started the trouble. Millwall isn’t a football club built around violence; if the hard work that the club itself have done to change their image in recent years isn’t evidence of that, then the vast majority of peaceful Millwall fans booing those causing trouble at Wembley is. Newcastle, equally, isn’t suddenly emblematic of a barely concealed rot in English football, more a case of tempers flaring for a few after losing 3-0 to their closest rivals.

The important thing to bear in mind during this latest controversy for English football is the fact that in 2013, it is a controversy, a freak event, and no longer the norm. English football has forged itself an entirely new reputation out of its troubled past, and matches play out far more peacefully than in Italy and even Germany. Hopefully, that reputation will not find itself tarnished by the actions of a select few drunkards.

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