In 1995 while acting for various syndicates of Lloyd’s of London I was fortunate enough to travel to the United Kingdom to meet with certain members of the underwriter. The trip lasted for ten days which gave me the opportunity to go and watch my beloved Derby County play on three separate occasions, the last of which will live in the memory forever.
Senior counsel and part-time Acting Judge Hilton Epstein, my then partner in the law firm Massimo Dus, and I travelled by Inter City train from St Pancreas Station in London to Derby Station which was some two hours away. The journey was largely uneventful and we arrived in good time to have lunch with the directors of the club at the Baseball Ground before kick-off.
My relationship with the directors of Derby was such that I was able to facilitate trials for Shoes and Steve Komphela with the club when Roy McFarland was still the assistant manager. That, however, is another story for another time.
The match that day was against Charlton Athletic who had brought with them a few thousand travelling fans from London, for a game in what was then styled the First Division and is now known as the Championship ie one division below the Premiership. The Rams ran out 2-1 winners and my travelling companions and I headed for the station to catch the next train back to London.
The train was the same one that all the travelling Charlton fans were using to get back home. It’s usually referred to as the “football train” but we did not know that at the time. The next two hours were, to say the least, harrowing as Charlton thugs came looking for any Derby supporters who were on the train. Needless to say they weren’t trying to offer us tea and biscuits and had they spotted us we could have been seriously hammered.
While I consider myself generally fearless, I have to admit that on that train, on that day, if these geniuses had wanted to take us out the game we had no way of fighting back.
And these fans were from Charlton about whom I had never heard mention of violence or confrontation. Millwall, Chelsea, Man United and the like we had often heard of clashes but of Charlton Athletic, not a word.
To say that it is unpleasant to be among supporters like that is an understatement, so heaven only knows what it must have been like when those two East London rivals West Ham and Millwall came together. According to police reports the war outside the ground had been pre-planned between the thugs who support these clubs.
Of course the two seldom meet with the Hammers generally a division or two above their hated enemy.
The cup changed all that and threw them together in a nightmarish fixture which was always going to be difficult for the police and stewards. So it proved with the thugs taking the fight from outside the stadium into Upton Park with ongoing pitch invasions being the order of the day. The scenes on Sky News were truly horrific and the fact that at time of writing we’ve only heard of one stabbing is a miracle in itself.
Of course in South Africa recently we were treated to Kaizer Chief’s fans going berserk in one of our local tournaments which resulted in them being fined a whopping half-a-million rand. Unfortunately this will not hurt their fans it will only hurt Kaizer and the club.
The English FA has announced a probe into last night’s disaster at Upton Park. Already video footage is being used to identify some of the perpetrators of these disgusting acts. No doubt some will be prosecuted and banned for life but it will not deter thugs from carrying on in the same way. A life ban or prison sentence is a badge of honour to many thugs who see it as a way of showing their street cred.
Moreover it does nothing to encourage fans to clamp down on their fellow supporters. Thug pays price, club pays fine end of story — move on.
Unfortunately both the UK and South Africa have an underlying culture of violence which requires administrators to act before the thugs of other teams see it as some sort of competition or worthy of matching. Start that trend and like England in the 1970s and 1980s you will battle to control it, never mind bring it to an end.
The only solution is to hit teams and fans where it really hurts by banning them from the tournaments in which their fans have conducted themselves like animals. In other words both West Ham and Millwall should immediately be thrown out of the competition. There is nothing the genuine supporter hates more than losing or worse going out of a competition altogether.
There is no doubt that that will incense the true fans and ensure that next time the hard heads try to throw their weight around it’s not only the police but the true fans of the club they will be up against. This means assisting the police and reporting criminal conduct. That means everyone is your enemy if you are a football lout.
You ignore this garbage at your peril.