Carlton Cole led the way last night in condemning the racist Millwall fans who showered him with monkey chants during Tuesday's violence-strewn Carling Cup tie with Millwall. The West Ham striker told them: "I might be as strong as a gorilla but I'm not a monkey" as English football prepared to tackle the offenders from a shameful night.
The Football Association said that it would seek lifelong bans for those West Ham fans who were part of three separate pitch invasions during the match. The organisation's governance department launched a wide-ranging investigation into the game that saw pitched battles in the streets outside the Boleyn Ground before kick-off and a man stabbed outside the ground.
While it was the West Ham fans who were responsible for the pitch invasions within the stadium, Millwall can also expect sanctions for the behaviour of their supporters. The League One club apologised for the racist chants aimed at Cole and they also face allegations that their fans sang offensive songs about the West Ham player Calum Davenport, who was stabbed last week, and Jack Collison, whose father died in a motorcycle accident at the weekend.
The FA's director of governance Darren Bailey will take evidence from both clubs as well as the Metropolitan Police before the governing body decides upon any sanctions. However, it is understood that neither the FA or the Football League – who run the Carling Cup – envisage West Ham being thrown out the competition.
Cole, who gestured back at the Millwall fans abusing him, said that he "didn't care" about the abuse. "I heard it but it's football," he said. "I don't care. I know I'm not a monkey. I might be as strong as a gorilla but I'm not a monkey. You've just got to carry on and get on with it and we got the result. That was the main point, the [Millwall] fans got what they deserved."
There was a rush from all sides to condemn the behaviour of supporters
from the FA, Football League, government, 2018 World Cup bid committee and both clubs. However, there was also a feeling in the game that the antipathy between the two east London's clubs' sets of fans combined with the rarity with which they play each other and a history of fan violence at either club added up to a set of conditions that, although regrettable, were rare in English football.
The FA will have to work with the Metropolitan Police who are seeking criminal charges for the 13 people arrested and those later identified as troublemakers. Under Home Office rules, the FA will seek lifetime bans for fans who were responsible for violence. "We have to make sure that the individuals concerned face such tough actions that they can't go to football again," said FA spokesman Adrian Bevington.
In the latest Home Office statistics on football hooliganism – for the 12 months up to October 2008 – West Ham were only the ninth worst offenders in the Premier League with 94 arrests for that period. Millwall were second worst in League One behind Leeds United with 78 arrests. Comparing statistics between clubs is problematic because of the vast difference in attendances.
Video footage taken of the incident on Green Street outside The Queens pub, next to Upton Park tube station, shows mounted police trying to keep rival factions apart. The police look woefully under-manned when confronted with the number of supporters posturing at one another. The FA investigation will also examine whether there were enough police officers at the game to cope with the potential for violence.
The reaction of West Ham supporters on fan forums was mixed. Some condemned the violence while others revelled in a return to the days of the club's notorious "inter-city firm" – a group of supporters who travelled the country developing a reputation for violence. Much of which has been recorded in tedious, self-aggrandising hooligan memoirs.
"I'm embarrassed, ashamed and gutted to see what I've come home to on the news tonight, and the worse thing is we can't blame Millwall," said one blogger on the WestHamOnline. net forum.
Another added: "This is aimed at those who still think that fighting in and around our matches is a good thing, who think that defending West Ham's honour is right and proper. Well it ain't. I thought this ridiculous behaviour went out of fashion in the Eighties."
However there were many who regarded it as a welcome return to those days. One blogger on the same forum wrote: "It was the best atmosphere at a home game for fucking years, the place was buzzing. All these self-righteous pricks are just post-Euro 96 happy-clappy mugs who love the sterilised Premier League."
Nights to forget: Recent violence around the world
Millwall v Birmingham, 2 May 2002
Home supporters reacted badly to their side's play-off defeat. Two cars were set alight in Bermondsey and bricks and paving stones were thrown as 45 policemen were injured.
Chelsea v Tottenham, 11 March 2007
Ten people were stabbed after supporters, armed with knives, bats and hockey sticks, fought running battles. 34 men were arrested.
Manchester United v Roma, 10 April 2007
Following trouble in the first leg, this Champions League quarter-final tie reignited outside Old Trafford as United fans threw bottles and cans at Italian supporters who were undergoing police bag checks.
Rangers v Zenit St Petersburg, 14 May 2008 (in Manchester)
Rangers supporters went on the rampage after a screen showing the match broke down. A Russian fan was stabbed before police charged Scottish supporters. Several cars and shopfronts were destroyed, and a policeman was attacked after falling.
Sunderland v Newcastle United, 25 October 2008
Visiting goalkeeper Shay Given was confronted by Sunderland supporters after fans from both sides broke on to the playing area after the final whistle.
Hull v Millwall, 24 January 2009
Visiting Millwall fans charged at home fans as missiles were thrown by both sides. 50 seats were ripped from the away end and 12 arrests were made at the KC Stadium.
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