The League Cup tie between West Ham and Millwall last night was, unsurprisingly, marred by large amounts of trouble before and after the game.
Having had the pleasure of visiting the New Den last season, it’s still very apparent that a club that has made massive strides in developing a community spirit still struggles to contain the obvious hooligan element that still exists. The club should still be applauded for its work though, especially as I’m old enough to remember how a trip to the Cold Blow Lane used to be.
Admittedly, the forty-something’s who turned up at Upton Park looking to relive their glory days were probably one-off visitors and it’s fairly clear that the unruly youngsters at Senegal Fields are a new and untested generation of potential yobs who only see their ancestors when Leeds come to town. It’s a good bet that these are the same ancestors that arrived in Hull last season determined to make up for lost time.
The spectre of the seventies is still very much with us, especially at clubs where the core support still finds the urge to fight back at life. The frustrations of recession and economic gloom are hardly an excuse for widespread violence but the need to be noticed still plays a large part in these sporadic events.
Personally, I feel it’s just a question of young men, and quite a few not-so-young men, wanting something that’s actually worth fighting for. Unfortunately, the global popularity of football provides the perfect platform for them to fulfil their desires. Historical links, regional ties and decades of bad blood simply add fuel to the fire.
Yet for all of the problems these occasional visitors can cause, it is difficult to understand the switch in mentality that some of these individuals possess. Before visiting the New Den last season, a few of us went for a drink around London Bridge. We ended up sitting at a table with two gentlemen who were more than happy to let us know about their violent histories, yet happily shared several rounds of drinks, a tray of oysters and some inspired conversation about the game of football itself.
Their contribution to the day out was immense, especially as both men were articulate, funny, intelligent and knowledgeable. They mirrored supporters that I meet every weekend of the season who simply don’t have the urge to fight just for the sake of it and it was almost saddening to think that both were probably there, or thereabouts, yesterday evening.
For my part, I often hope these types of individuals still understand that the beauty of football sees more people coming together under one banner of unison instead of small groups doing their best to screw the whole thing up for the rest of us.
I’m not holding my breath though.