Taxi driver wisdom is always good entertainment. If you’ve ever taken even the shortest cab ride across the capital you’ll have been treated to this priceless wit – although travelling to Las Vegas to watch Michael MacIntyre might be a less expensive way to get a ‘funny’ story. So it was quite apt that on 606, one of the final words on the crowd trouble at Wembley should come from a London taxi driver. He explained that, as early as lunchtime, he was driving past a pub near Baker Street and it was apparent then from the clearly inebriated fans and presence of Police and Ambulances that there was going to be trouble later on. In fact, he went on to say that the powers that be should have acted on these scenes by phoning ahead to Wembley to let them know what to expect. I only hope that Five Live took this chap’s details because I’ve no doubt the Police and Football Authorities will want to employ him on a consultancy basis before future high profile sporting events.
I apologise. I didn’t intend this to be a piece insulting our good London cabbies. There is of course real truth in his words. The Police and Football Association have done their own version of ‘The Knowledge’ where football fan control is concerned. One of the first measures they took to control violence was to restrict the availability of alcohol and change kick off times to prevent the much increased threat that booze brings. It worked a treat, even if it did deprive the well behaved fan from having a couple of pre match pints before a big game.
Our taxi driver’s assertion that alarm bells should have been ringing was spot on. But they should have been clanging loud and clear as soon as the decision was made to give ESPN the ‘less fashionable’ tie with a tea time Saturday kick off. With Wigan fans too busy making the journey down to be able to enjoy too many pre-match drinks (and almost certainly saving themselves for the expected post-match celebrations) that left the London-based Millwall supporters with a lot of time to kill before the game.
So is that a suitable excuse for the outbreak of violence towards the end of the Wembley showpiece? Of course not.
The trouble with this is, in a game that will have been beamed across the the globe (and this is why the FA will be particularly furious) all most will see and hear is “Millwall” and “violence”, accompanied by the footage and photos. Many will assume Millwall fans were rampaging across the stands in an attempt to get to rival supporters, seats flying. The fact that it was more akin to the footballing equivalent of a drunken family fight at a wedding or Christmas party will cut no ice whatsoever, and so it shouldn’t.
At times, supporting Millwall is like being the parent to an unruly child. You find yourself trying to explain outbreaks of bad behaviour and insistence on pressing the self-destruct button – and you can hear the whispers of other ‘parents’ of perfectly behaved children make their disapproving noises and accusing you of being in denial and making excuses. But you can’t give up. Supporting your team, like parenthood is unconditional, you can’t just walk away.
The incident that broke out in blocks 136 and 137 as I saw it from block 130 appeared to involve a dozen or so fans. From what I can gather speaking to other fans afterwards, it was a booze-fuelled row over nothing that spilled over and, as is often the case, well-meaning fans trying to stop the trouble became involved in it causing it to spread. It was alarming how slow the reaction was to stop it, but the days of Police wading in at the first sign of a problem are long gone. During the first outbreak which lasted a few minutes, no Police or stewards became involved. Then, after a short period of quiet, trouble started again as Officers moved in – presumably having studied CCTV footage first before making their arrests.
Then it was all over. In more ways than one.
The sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realise your team is going to lose a big game was compounded by a deeper more despairing nausea of why such a small minority have to ruin the day and what the media are going to make of it all. I imagine it’s similar to the feeling that parent of the unruly child gets when they pick up the phone to hear the familiar voice of their child’s headteacher grimly informing them that their offspring has been in trouble. Again. “Oh no what now, how do I explain this one away..”.
You can’t explain it, you can’t excuse it. But you can’t walk away or allow a good club, built, worked on and managed by good people and followed by a vast majority of good fans to suffer as a result of it. There were over 32,000 fans supporting Millwall in the 62,000 crowd yesterday. Many will have woken on Sunday with a sore head, for various reasons.
The club itself will be waking up with a head-pounding, vomit-inducing triple hangover: The heartache that a winnable FA Cup semi saw them outclassed and outplayed, ending a dream of a second final in ten years; the sobering thought that they need to shake themselves down and prepare for what could be an unexpected Championship relegation scrap in a league that looks like breaking the record points total for a team relegated (52 – set by Millwall in 1996) but worst of all, this urgency and need to get back to work will be disturbed and tainted by the fallout from the trouble at Wembley which could cost them more dearly than they could ever have feared if it manages to distract their focus enough to prevent them gaining points required to stay up.