18 January, 2011

"My kids love football, but I'm frightened they'll get hurt at games:"

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Mounted police versus mountainous pique
     It was reported as "Super Sunday" to reflect the best of local rivalry, but turned into "Derby Disaster Day" due to the random violence that took place in the terrraces, ending up spilling onto the pitch itself.
     At Birmingham v Aston Villa; Sunderland v Newcastle and even the supposed "Friendly Derby": Everton v Liverpool, there were scenes of intimidation and violence reminiscent of a by-gone, 1970's era, we thought had been left behind with the advent of the Premier League, all-seater stadia and stringent crowd control. Football fans who have attended matches for decades, spoke of their fears for the future - and voiced feelings that football derbies were no longer suitable for youngsters.
     One parent, who brought two of his boys to Sunderland v Newcastle said: "I'd take my two lads to the Stadium of Light in the future, but only if we were bussed in and out. There is no way I would risk taking public transport or going in my own car" - a flashback to (what we hoped was) a by-gone era indeed.
Riot Police ready for combat at the Stadium of Light
        The only person to have played for and captained both of the fierce local rivals; Stan Anderson said that the intensity of feelings between the clubs is far more poisonous now than when he played. (Anderson is 77 and played for Sunderland from 1952-'63 and Newcastle from 1963-'65).  After witnessing violence and trouble after Newcastle stuffed Sunderland 5-1 in October, he declined an invitation to last Sunday's match at the Stadium of Light.
     "Fans back then (when he played) were not tolerant if you had a bad game and they were unhappy if you lost the derby, but there was never a threat of violence. When I got to the railway station after Newcastle won 5-1 (in October last), all I could see was people looking for trouble. The atmosphere was just horrible" - says Anderson.

     As well as one fan punching Newcastle goal keeper Stephen Harper in the face, 24 arrests were made at the Stadium of Light on Sunday as riot police struggled to keep fans apart as they threw seats and bottles post match (pictured left).
     At St. Andrews (Birmingham's home ground); the attendance for Birmingham v Aston Villa on Sunday was 22,287 - which is the lowest crowd for this derby in Premier League history. The club believe that a combination of post-Christmas austerity, Sky coverage and a noon kick-off were responsible for the low attendance. They insist that there is no evidence to suggest that the threat of violence had frightened fans away, though five fans were arrested inside the ground. A fan who decided against going to Sunday's game, but was at the Carling Cup match between the same pair just before Christmas stated: "We (Birmingham fans) were seated above the Villa fans, so we felt safe, but seeing flares being thrown below us was really scary so we decided to stay away this time."
Scary pre-Christmas Saint Andrews scenes
     The first four meetings in the Premier League between the local rivals, attracted crowds averaging over 29,000. Villa, who took 3,000 to the previous match, had a reduced allocation of 1,750 for last Sunday's game and even fell short of that figure. 
     The aptly named Jonathan Fear, editor of "Vital Villa" fan's website said: "I don't go near the place because I can't take the hatred. It's a circus. I watched the game on the TV with my Dad instead."

       One final point worth noting is that it is not necessary for fans of rival teams to be kept separated at rugby matches. A famous example I recall was when two English fans were seen in the midst of the Irish crowd at Croke Park the first time Ireland famously played England (pictured right) at the grand old ground back in 2007.         
       Could the same ever happen at a football international? I don't think so.

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