Tuesday 26 September 2017

Miguel Delaney: Arsenal vs Koln could have been a lot worse but it wasn’t - now it's time to learn the lessons

The work of people like stewards, the police, the clubs and other supporters ensured the match actually passed off peacefully and relatively enjoyably for the majority

FC Koln Fans let of flares after Jhon Cordoba of FC Koeln scored the first goal during the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and 1. FC Koeln at Emirates Stadium on September 14, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
FC Koln Fans let of flares after Jhon Cordoba of FC Koeln scored the first goal during the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and 1. FC Koeln at Emirates Stadium on September 14, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Miguel Delaney

In the hour between 8.05pm and 9.05pm when Arsenal’s Europa League match with Koln was delayed, there were a few moments when it looked this could be a very long night - and that is not meant in a light sense.

There was a lot of congestion around the Emirates. There was a lot of commotion around the Emirates.

There were a few sirens, a few flash points, some barriers knocked over, and then the more worrying images of clashes between some away fans and stewards in the actual stadium. There was even a trepidation in the air that the game could be cancelled, with all the worries that would entail.

For the most part, though, there was just singing; a sense of anticipation; a sense of enjoyment.

This was one of the biggest nights in Koln’s history given that they had not qualified for Europe in a quarter of a century, with all of the excitement over that only heightened by the fact this first game back was against a name like Arsenal in a football city like London, and that was reflected by how big the crowd were.

It was also reflected by their general behaviour, and the sense of carnival once the game actually started, as well as the fact that a mere five fans were arrested out of 20,000. Not all the Koln fans were there to enjoy themselves in that manner, and there were reports of spitting and violence - but the majority were.

And this was the thing.

It was a night that could have been a whole lot worse given how it started… but wasn’t. Rather than a night of hard lessons, it was merely a night of instructive lessons: how to deal with such situations in future; how to try and regenerate German-style atmospheres in England.

There are fair questions over whether the latter issue is connected to the very nature of how games are policed and generally organised, and the entire match does raise deeper questions over what has been conditioned by the segregation culture and the clash of supporting cultures that this ultimately was.

This is not to play down fair concerns about what could gone wrong and how to handle the sheer volume of fans.

For their part, Arsenal had tried their best to prepare for the situation and had been in contact with Koln before the game about the number of supporters travelling.

Even the best preparation, however, can’t always cater for the actual reality of dealing with a situation - something that England hasn’t had to deal with for some time, but that foreign stadiums have had to deal with from English fans.

It also shouldn’t be overlooked that it was likely such preparation - and the work of people like stewards, the police, the clubs, other supporters - that the match passed off so peacefully and relatively enjoyably for the majority. Among that majority were the players. Take Per Mertesacker’s view.

“Actually quite positive, because the fans who were in the stadium were quite enthusiastic, and it was quite fun to play in front of two crowds battling each other, in a way. It felt good to be part of that, and especially when we were 1-0 down, to get back, for the fans to get back into the game with us scoring two, we finally found our rhythm, and the fans as well were happy.”

It sums it up. A night with a fair few negatives ultimately had positives too - but mostly just lessons.

Independent News Service

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