Football: Crowd trouble may lead to closure of New Den: FA charges south London club after disturbances at play-off match

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The Independent Online
MILLWALL were yesterday charged by the Football Association with failing to control their supporters in the aftermath of the worst scenes of crowd violence in recent years. If found guilty the south London club could face the temporary closure of their new pounds 20m stadium, a heavy fine or the loss of League points at the start of next season.

The First Division play-off semi-final with Derby at the New Den was twice halted on Wednesday night after fans invaded the pitch. The second time Derby players were kicked and knocked to the ground as they sprinted to safety. Later a mob of around 1,000 went on the rampage in the stadium car park and surrounding streets, wrecking vehicles and causing damage. Bricks were thrown at the police and six officers required treatment for injuries.

Seventeen people were arrested and eight have been charged with a variety of offences including criminal damage and breach of the peace. They were bailed to appear before Tower Bridge magistrates on 16 June.

The FA has given Millwall two weeks to respond to the charge, after which a disciplinary commission will be set up. In view of the club's history of crowd trouble - their old ground in Cold Blow Lane was closed on four occasions after disturbances - it seems certain that if the charge is proven, the punishment will be severe.

Officials will also consider the remarks of Millwall's chairman, Reg Burr, who, after the away leg on Sunday, accused Derby of 'kicking us off the park'. His comments have been condemned for inflaming the situation and possibly inciting a desire for revenge among spectators.

'Reg Burr is an elder statesman and I get on well with him,' the Derby chairman, Brian Fearn, said. 'But I was surprised he made those remarks. Put it this way, I would not have said it.'

The Millwall manager, Mick McCarthy, may also be in trouble after, by implication, calling on the club's followers to make it an intimidating evening for the visiting team. In his programme notes, McCarthy wrote: 'The Derby fans managed to make it a hostile environment for us up there and I know from experience that they cannot hold a candle to the Millwall crowd in this department.'

While there is sympathy for the measures Millwall have taken to isolate their hooligan fringe and to strengthen links between club and community, there remains a belief that more could be done to prevent such excesses. Other First Division managers point to the fact that before Wednesday Millwall had lost only one League game at home all season as evidence that sides are intimidated there.

Despite their 3-1 victory which booked a place in the Wembley play-off final on 30 May, Derby were unable to celebrate their success for fear of further trouble. Lionel Pickering, the club's vice-chairman and major shareholder, said Millwall would be closed down for good unless the problem was eradicated. 'If you don't put a fence around the ground or dig a moat. . .then I don't see a future for them. You have to stop fans getting on to the pitch and if trouble continues other clubs will refuse to play them.'

Burr has offered to resign if 'I thought that would make any difference'. He added: 'Naturally we are very upset by what happened. We had over 300 stewards, 200 to 400 police, a number of police horses and deliberately kept the lower north tier empty so there could be no possibility of conflict between the fans. We believe we took every possible precaution.'

The National Football Intelligence Unit warned yesterday that serious football hooliganism was 'alive and well and showing no signs of waning'. Detective Inspector Peter Chapman, deputy head of the unit, also said that hard-core hooligans plan to travel to the World Cup to cause trouble despite England's absence.

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