Riot police return to British football

Man stabbed before West Ham-Millwall clash, which is marred by pitch invasions
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The Independent Online

In violent scenes reminiscent of the decades of hooliganism that once blighted English football, a man was stabbed in the chest as fierce clashes broke out between Millwall and West Ham supporters at Upton Park.

The "planned" scuffles could see both clubs incur massive penalties from the Football Association (FA), with the individual culprits facing a lifetime ban.

Trouble brewed from late afternoon and is believed to have been started by fans that arrived at the stadium in east London without a ticket to the game. Bricks and bottles were lobbed as hundreds of supporters from either side engaged in battles. Police confirmed that the stabbing of a 44-year-old man in nearby Priory Road was a connected incident. Last night he was described as being in a stable condition.

With witnesses describing the scene as a "war zone", police called on reinforcements to try to placate the violence, which continued for several hours. Inside Upton Park, violence broke out during the game, with home fans spilling on to the pitch to confront Millwall supporters, and fans launching missiles including bottles, coins and plastic seats. There were serious concerns that the game would be abandoned as police and stewards appeared overwhelmed and under-resourced.

A 29-year-old man had to close his kebab shop in nearby Green Street for two hours. He said: "All hell broke loose – it was very frightening. Bottles and bricks were being thrown from the back and some were hitting West Ham fans at the front. There were loads of people with bloodied faces."

Aaron Smith, from Hemel Hempstead, said: "I saw one man cornered by at least a dozen Millwall fans before kick-off – terrifying scenes."

Last night the FA said: "We strongly expect all culprits to be banned from football for life. They have no place in our game."

The Carling Cup tie had been earmarked as a potential powder keg by the Metropolitan Police since the second-round draw earlier this month.

Trouble involving the clubs has been relatively rare in recent seasons, although Millwall fans did clash with police following a Division One play-off semi-final against Birmingham City in 2002, but the authorities were still determined to take no chances.

Millwall were granted only 2,300 seats for the tie – West Ham usually allocate more than 3,000 to visiting sides – and a so-called "buffer zone" was established around the travelling contingent in order to prevent rivals fans being in direct contact with each other.

Football governing bodies will have been shocked at the violence, particularly as so much of it took place inside the stadium. Intelligence units have largely succeeded in forcing hooligan elements away from grounds, while the rise of all-seater stadia, CCTV and the use of football banning orders helped to revive football's reputation as a family sport.

But last night's events were a grim throwback to the worst hooligan excesses of the Eighties and Nineties, when trouble inside stadiums – where rivals firms would challenge each other to storm their rivals' terraces – was only too common.

The precautions appeared to have been effective, inside the ground at least, until late in the game, when West Ham scored a late equaliser.

An uneasy truce was finally established but it did not last. There were three more pitch invasions in extra-time, after each of Millwall's subsequent two goals and the full-time whistle, and the stadium PA announcer was reduced to forlorn appeals for fans to clear the field in order to let the players return to the dressing room.

Millwall's contingent was kept behind after the final whistle to prevent further clashes outside the stadium.

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