Football: Hooliganism, sadly, is still alive and kicking

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The Independent Online
WHILE MARTIN O'NEILL was emotionally referring to the dejection he had left in Leicester's dressing-room, one of his club's supporters stood witness to proof that hooliganism still festers in English football.

Later, on the BBC's Six-O-Six programme that supporter spoke of a seven- year-old boy so terrified by gangs of Chelsea supporters rampaging through the narrow streets around Filbert Street that he may be lost to the game. "When we got home the lad took off his cap and scarf and said that he doesn't want to go anymore," the caller said.

A Chelsea supporter himself, and big in the government's football Task Force, the Six-O-Six presenter David Mellor responded to this information with appropriate gravity. Pointing out that Chelsea have done a great deal to isolate the worst elements in their following he nevertheless agreed that further action may have to be taken.

It will be interesting to see whether anything comes of this because the habit in English football today is to assume that there is a direct correlation between the behaviour of supporters and policing methods. According to what was heard on Six-O-Six, the violence that followed Saturday's match subsided before the local constabulary put in an appearance.

To hear about this trouble was unsurprising. Throughout the match pleas were made over the Tannoy system to rival groups divided in one corner of the stadium by a thick wedge of police officers.

One of the reasons for football's burgeoning popularity is the impression that it has been made safe as family entertainment by sophisticated security measures. If this is largely true plenty of evidence exists to suggest that football violence is still with us.

As when hooliganism was at its worst, nothing occurred in a match that saw Chelsea extend their unbeaten run to 17 matches with a 4-2 victory to provoke bad feeling in the crowd or the trouble that apparently erupted afterwards.

If riddled with the defensive errors that are commonplace in the Premiership it was gripping entertainment from which Leicester were entitled to take something. "I thought we were terrific," O'Neill said afterwards. A highly emotional man, he seemed almost overcome by the mood that prevailed in Leicester's dressing-room. "We went out with a patched-up team against high quality players and gave them a battering," he said. "To end up with nothing is unbelievable."

Chelsea could hardly dispute O'Neill's assessment when Ed de Goey's alert and agile goalkeeping was accounted for. First a remarkable reflex save from Graham Fenton, then a diving touch to deny Matt Elliott's rocketing 35-yard free-kick.

Then Chelsea got a goal out of nothing, the ball running in off Gianfranco Zola after a mix-up between Kasey Keller and Steve Walsh in the 28th minute. Ten minutes later Leicester fell further behind when Gustavo Poyet got his head to an effort he had nodded against the crossbar. Shell-shocked, Leicester recovered for Muzzy Izzet to convert a chance made for him by Elliott in the role of stand-in attacker.

When O'Neill visited the Leicester dressing-room at half-time he had nothing but praise for his team's effort. "You've pulverised one of the best teams in the League," he said. "You deserve more and you can get more."

Before Leicester could respond fully to this call to arms they were again facing a two- goal deficit. Zola's wicked free-kick spun off an upright, Celestine Babayaro flashed at the ball and Tore Andre Flo touched it in.

Still Leicester came at them. Steve Guppy cut Chelsea's lead with a curler beyond De Goey's right hand and then Frank Leboeuf performed a quite astonishing feat of agility to hook Frank Sinclair's header off the goal-line. Then Sinclair threatened again with a shot that De Goey kept out with his right leg.

O'Neill described Chelsea's fourth, scored on the whistle by Zola as an irrelevance. It was, but nevertheless testimony to the little Italian's artistry and commitment. "In some games we can show our skills, in others we have to fight for everything," Gianluca Vialli said. "Today we had to fight very hard against a team who never gave up."

Goals: Zola (28) 0-1; Poyet (39) 0-2; Izzet (40) 1-2; Flo (56) 1-3; Guppy (60); 2-3; Zola (90) 2-4.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Sinclair, Ullathorne, Walsh; Savage (Campbell,55), Lennon, Izzet, Zagorakis, Guppy; Fenton (Oakes,68), Elliott. Substitutes not used: Taggart, McMahon, Arphexad (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Desailly, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Goldbaek (Duberry, 65), Poyet, Di Matteo, Babayaro; Flo, Zola. Substitutes not used: Petrescu, Nicholls, Morris, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Leicester: Sinclair. Chelsea: De Goey.

Man of the match: Zola.

Attendance: 21,401.

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