Wednesday 22 November 2017

Comment: Unsavoury scenes at Boleyn but it's hard to stop an idiot being an idiot


Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Ogden

Here's an idea. Delay West Ham United's relocation to the Olympic Stadium for six months so that the running track be reinstated and therefore make it possible only for medal-winning athletes to lob a bottle onto the pitch from the stands.

No, it probably isn't workable.

Sometimes you cannot apply measures to prevent every single possible eventuality and, if one particular idiot decides it is a good idea to use the opposition goalkeeper as target practice with a half-full bottle of water, then short of mind-reading, there is little that can be done to stop it.

The same goes for coin-throwers. That even happens in the most modern of stadia, with Manchester derbies at Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium marred in recent years by instances of coins being thrown from the stands, most notably, and damagingly, at United's Rio Ferdinand and City's Javi Garrido.

Chelsea supporters also shamed themselves during their FA Cup victory at home to City in February by pelting teenager David Faupala after his goal for the visitors, so the louts who embarrassed West Ham on Tuesday night by throwing bottles at United's David de Gea are not alone in their brainless behaviour.

And while the group of thugs who attacked the United team bus with bottles and various other missiles, causing five windows to be smashed, will entertain their mates in the local pub with tales of how they bravely ambushed a coach protected by the anonymity of a baying mob, the scenes outside Upton Park were, again, not wholly exclusive to West Ham's easily-entertained 'lad's army.'

One passenger on the United team bus revealed, in a mixture of shock and hilarity, that 'one 40-year-old bloke walked up to the bus and headbutted it' before turning away to be greeted like some kind of conquering hero by his claret-and-blue acquaintances.

Two years ago, a minibus carrying Manchester City supporters from Anfield was attacked and had its windows smashed as a result of missiles thrown by youths running out of one of the side streets close to Liverpool's stadium.

While that incident was reported at the time, it did not generate the publicity and headlines which have quite rightly accompanied the violence prior to Upton Park's final game on Tuesday.

The scenes outside West Ham's stadium were a terrible reminder of the very worst of football and an example of why few visiting supporters will share the syrupy sentimentality that has portrayed Upton Park as some kind of football Utopia in recent days.

In truth, it is a relic of the past, a particularly unwelcoming one at that, and the fans who call it their home proved just why it was way down the list of favourite away grounds for most supporters by making Green Street resemble a scene from 'Black Hawk Down' at 7pm on Tuesday.

But the same could happen outside Villa Park, Anfield, Goodison Park, White Hart Lane or any of those century-old grounds surrounded by houses, alleyways and bottlenecks.

The newly-built arenas across the country are safer for supporters and players.

They may contribute to sanitised atmospheres, but if that is because a family of four now feels safe enough to attend games, the groups of lads who cite them as 'all that is wrong' with the modern game can, well, go and pretend to be Danny Dyer somewhere else.

Tuesday night at West Ham just brought the worst of football together, swept up like a pile of rubbish, and dumped on the Upton Park stage one last time.

But can football ever eradicate the idiot who will throw a bottle or the gang who will attack a bus?

It can take steps to diminish the opportunities, by building user-friendly stadia and locating them in areas which are easier to police and control, but an idiot will always be an idiot, regardless of whose colours he wears.

So David de Gea will not be the last footballer to be hit by a bottle and Manchester United's team bus will not be last to have its windows smashed. Thankfully, neither will happen again at Upton Park. Let's just hope it happens less often at the Olympic Stadium.

(© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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