The ugly crowd trouble that marred the EFL Cup game between West Ham and Chelsea last night was as predictable as it was sad to see.
Ever since West Ham moved to the stadium there has barely been a game where trouble hasn’t flared and games haven’t seen some kind of disturbance. Things really boiled over last night when the home fans didn’t need to fight each other as sections of them have at other games and rival supporters clashed in scenes that belonged in the last century.
One fan told BBC Sport last night of his experience: “It was like being back in the 1970s.” he said. “The amount of coins that were thrown, seats that were thrown, it was an absolute nightmare.”
Then another added this chilling warning: “If they don’t close the stadium, someone will get killed there.”
Now, it could be that such talk was merely the result of an awful experience and emotions running raw at such a time, but it is something that the authorities would do well to heed.
The now London Stadium has been mired in controversy for the years since it was announced that its legacy would be to host football. Whether it was the commercial deal which was hugely advantageous to West Ham, the legal challenges from other football clubs, or the increased tax burden on London residents, even before a ball was kicked in Stratford, problem after problem had mounted up.
There had been minor crowd trouble at the early matches there, before things got worse at the match with Watford in mid-September. According to the Guardian on 13th September “WHU had “essential important improvements” to increase the numbers of those involved in stewarding and the security operation, as well as the level of training and experience they have in dealing with Premier League matches.
“According to the club, E20 (the company that owns the stadium) has confirmed that immediate action is being taken on the issues raised, including a “more robust and secure line of segregation” between home and away fans.”
We’d suggest that that line (above) isn’t robust enough.
In the build up to last night’s match the Metropolitan Police had released a statement saying a new policing plan was in place saying last week: “The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has a comprehensive policing plan for the match on Wednesday October 26 between West Ham United and Chelsea. The MPS is working with partners to prevent crime and disorder.
“The MPS has a tactical solution for matches being held at the London Stadium which will allow the safe deployment of officers into the stadium, if required, to deal with any crime or disorder.
“The MPS, working with London Stadium and Airwave, are confident that a full in-building radio solution will be operational at the London Stadium in February 2017.”
Quite why we didn’t have a fully working radio “solution” in one of the nation’s flagship stadiums is open to question, but now all those plans are surely back on the drawing board.
This morning, at the time of writing, the FA have just announced that intend to conduct a full investigation into what happened. As critical as we are of the FA no one here or anywhere else can reasonably expect them to enforce the law of the land, and the ultimate responsibility for the awful scenes last night lies with the mindless thugs who perpetrated the actions and no one else and it is up to the police and the judiciary to hand out punishments as they see fit based on the evidence.
But wouldn’t it have been helpful if these reviews had been carried out before people were left injured and scared for their lives.
It’s not like the warning signs weren’t there.
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