The Football Association has urged West Ham and Millwall to issue life bans to the hooligans who caused last night's Carling Cup tie to descend into near anarchy. English football's governing body has promised a stringent investigation after violence erupted inside and outside the stadium, and they are expected to impose severe sanctions. Both clubs will be bracing themselves for a hefty fine, and the FA could even close sections of Upton Park.
"We absolutely condemn all of the disorder that has occurred at Upton Park this evening both inside and outside of the ground," said an FA spokesman. "We will be working with all parties, including the police and clubs, to establish the facts surrounding tonight's events. We strongly expect all culprits to be banned from football for life."
The FA could also investigate claims that Carlton Cole, the West Ham striker, was subjected to racist abuse. Cole made an abusive gesture to the 2,300-strong away contingent before being substituted by manager Gianfranco Zola, who later claimed he was "tired".
By then, boiling point had long been reached on a night which brought shame back to English football. A febrile atmosphere began to ferment in the minutes before kick-off, when a man was stabbed in the streets around Upton Park during clashes between rivals fans, and it bubbled up again in the second half as West Ham pressed for an equalising goal.
Tensions finally exploded when Junior Stanislas equalised for West Ham with five minutes remaining, with hundreds of home fans taking that as the cue to pour on to the field in order to confront the visiting contingent. Scuffles erupted and objects were thrown as stewards and police were swamped as the tie threatened to spiral out of control.
There were similarly chaotic scenes when Stanislas scored West Ham's second goal from the penalty spot, with Millwall players clustering by the touchline to debate whether they should return to the dressing room. "They gathered together, came over to the side and assessed the situation," said Lions manager Kenny Jackett. "There were a lot of people on the pitch. It was common sense but we had to let the stewards do their job."
Jackett, rather surprisingly, declined to criticise Millwall supporters, pointing out the visiting contingent had stayed in their seats and not joined their opponents on the field. Zola, too, was reluctant to berate his own team's followers, although he did suggest that he would back any FA inquiry. "What can I say? I'm a sport man," he said. "It's certainly not good for football. I've never seen anything like that before after seven years with Chelsea and 11 months with West Ham."
Amid the bedlam, West Ham's fightback from a goal down went almost unnoticed. Neil Harris had plundered an early strike to give Millwall a deserved lead and they appeared certain to win until Stanislas pounced from close range late on.
Extra-time belonged to West Ham, with Stanislas converting from the penalty spot after Andrew Frampton's hand-ball and Zavon Hines drilled in a late third. At the end West Ham's Jack Collison, whose father was killed in a motorcycle accident on Sunday, left the field in tears, overcome by emotion. "Jack told me he wanted to be here," Zola added. "Not many would have done the same thing."