Fancy a fight for old times' sake?

Giles Smith, a Chelsea supporter, witnessed Wednesday's trouble which, he says, could have happened any time in the last 20 years
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The Independent Online
It was just like old times, by which I mean it was just like 10 days ago at the New Den. There, just after the final whistle (Millwall 0 Chelsea 0), there were police horses on the pitch preventing our fans from getting at their fans, or their fan s fromgetting at our fans - it was hard to tell which.

Chelsea supporters were held in the ground for a while, and when we were finally released into the car park, where we were then held until the station had been cleared, someone ran past me, shouting: "Right. Let's go and get this south London scum."

when Chelsea lost on penalties in the replay on Wednesday night, some of us wanted to go home and have a cup of tea, some of us wanted to have a word with Mark Stein about that chance he missed in the second half, and some of us wanted to go and get thatsouth London scum. You get all sorts at football.

My seat at Chelsea is in the West Stand. When the police horses cantered on to the pitch and formed a barrier in front of the goal at the North Stand end, I was in the aisle on my way out. But I was walking up it backwards, I should say, caught somewherebetween the feeling that this was a sickening sight, and the desire to hang around and see how it panned out.

The way it panned out was 38 arrests, a few muddled punch-ups on the pitch, and what Glenn Hoddle, the Chelsea manager, called "mindless people doing mindless things". But it could have been far worse: it needs saying - in the face of some of the reporting of the events - that this was a riot which never happened.

Not that there is nothing to feel grim about - some seating was damaged in the new North Stand. In the days of fencing and cattle-standard trains to away games, one liberal argument about hooliganism said: "Pen them up like animals, and they'll behave like animals."

One of the most depressing things to sink in after Wednesday is the realisation that a club can spend £5m equipping a bright new stand with an in-house television service and bars named after favourite players, yet still have no effect on some people's desire to toss plastic seats at police horses.

A friend watched the game from the lower tier of the North Stand. She says that after Millwall equalised, some Chelsea fans rushed down to the front of the stand and stood in the aisle, obscuring her view for the rest of the evening. These were some of the fans who went on to the pitch at the final whistle.

In the surge of fans attempting to get on the pitch when John Spencer missed his penalty, she was knocked down and separated from her boyfriend, who managed to force his way back and stand over her.

Maybe the stewards could have worked faster. But what would you do in that situation? How would you cope, armed only with a fluorescent jacket and a nebulous job description?

As I understand it, it is the prime function of stewards to help people find their seats, in the hope that having found them, most will want to stay in them. They are not routinely issued with riot shields and batons, and I have never seen one on a horse. Labelling Wednesday night's events a stewarding problem would be absurd.

In fact, the club seemed to have done all it could to minimise the possibility of violence. Trouble really doesn't happen that often at football these days, and you can pretty much name in advance the fixtures where it is likely; Manchester United v Leeds, or Chelsea v Millwall.

Chelsea had made their usual provision for away fans in the lower tier of the East Stand. But in addition the club had dedicated the former "Shed End" behind the south goal to Millwall fans. This is the first time they had ever done this, and it removed the danger that Millwall fans would buy up seats in Chelsea areas. There was, as far as I am aware, no fighting during the game. The police formed a line along that end for the entire game - again, an unusual tactic. All in all, the police played a blinder.

There will be repercussions. A fine for the club, perhaps. Maybe some restrictions on our freedom to travel to away games. But both of these prospects are more bearable than the thought of all the articles from journalism's sociologists saying football violence is back; the flip stuff in the style magazines about "the return of the yob"; maybe eventually the odd fashion spread on DMs and denim.

The fact is that a cup tie between Chelsea and Millwall would have been a potential riot situation at any point between hooliganism's heyday in the 1970s and Wednesday night. It has never been away, only very successfully contained.

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