Sam Wallace: Even before violence at Wembley, statistics show Millwall lead the way in fan arrests

Talking Football: Many Millwall fans are appalled by the violence but to argue that the club does not have a problem is to be in denial
  • @SamWallaceIndy

There are those at Millwall who say they have made strides over the years in changing the culture of their club and that, in the space of a few minutes on Saturday evening, that hard work was undone as pictures of their brawling, bloodied fans were beamed around the world.

It may well be right that the club have tried their best but unfortunately, even before Saturday, the notion that the Millwall support had been reformed was not borne out by the statistics. The Home Office arrest figures for last season, published in November, make grim reading.

They might only be 18th in the Championship, but when it comes to the number of arrests, Millwall are not far off the Champions League places. Not only did they top the Championship with 18 arrests for violent disorder, alongside Nottingham Forest, but both clubs also had more arrests in that most serious category than any club in the Premier League.

To put that in perspective, this is a club that averaged a home attendance of 11,888 last season, the fourth-lowest in the division. Yet overall, last season, Millwall fans were the subject of 65 arrests, the joint highest total in the Championship along with Birmingham City.

Millwall's arrest statistics for the season would have placed them eighth in the Premier League, just one fewer than Sunderland (66) and comfortably ahead of West Bromwich Albion (44), Aston Villa (39), Everton (35) and Tottenham (30). To the relief of those in the top division, there is no prospect of Millwall competing in the Premier League in the near future on anything but arrest figures.

Overall, arrests at football matches are falling year on year, from 3,075 in 2010-2011 to 2,363 in 2011-2012. When you bear in mind that 29.5m people came through the turnstiles in the top four divisions last season, that is hardly an epidemic. We are not back in the dark old days of the 1980s. Not even at Millwall.

As for the club, they say that those arrest figures are partly due to their hard-line attitude towards troublemakers and, of course, not every arrest ends in a conviction or even a charge. There are lots of people who watch Millwall, including many at the semi-final on Saturday, who are appalled by the violence. They are heavily policed to the extent, it has been said, that it can invite trouble. Even so, to argue this club does not have a problem is to be in denial.

What happened on Saturday at Wembley? It is an issue that the club are now piecing together along with the Football Association and the Met Police and the picture should become clearer as they trace those captured on the footage fighting.

One Millwall fan, Ayse Smith, on the supporters' club committee, who was at Wembley on Saturday, told me she believed that rival supporters had bought tickets for the Millwall end. It had happened in the past, she said, that fans of other clubs regarded identifying themselves as a rival supporter in a Millwall end as a chance to prove their own bravery to peers.

This phenomenon is thought to have much to do with Millwall's historic reputation and the cachet that carries. A Millwall supporter home and away for 20 years, Smith is a credible voice. She took her children to games when they were still very young and feels safe at the club. "Millwall fans generally don't fight among each other," she said.

There is also the fact that on 5 April, Millwall announced that the remainder of their 31,000 ticket allocation from the FA was going on general sale. The club had sold around 17,000 to season-ticket holders and then opened the sale to members before the remainder went on general sale. On their website, Millwall stipulated those tickets were for "Millwall fans only" but they did not require any other criteria.

The FA, however, believes that the general sale tickets were for the top tier, an area in which there was no trouble. Regardless of the bizarre ways in which some football fans like to spend their weekends – and that includes the unhinged ones who like to goad Millwall fans – the evidence does not point to general sale tickets being sold in the problem areas.

In May last year, general sale tickets bought in the Blackpool end by West Ham fans for the Football League's Championship play-off final resulted in an unpleasant day for some of the Blackpool supporters. There was an extensive report by the Independent Football Ombudsman published in January which attributed much of the problem to lax selling practices by Blackpool, who put their tickets on general sale.

But this possibility is already being discounted by FA officials and in that context the statement on Saturday night, from the Millwall chief executive, Andy Ambler, which left open the possibility that trouble could have been caused by supporters of other clubs, elicited the usual groan.

The problem for Millwall will be if it is proven beyond doubt, as the FA already expects, that those who caused the problems and are convicted of serious offences are season-ticket holders or members. The club, including manager Kenny Jackett, have stopped shy of condemning the violent element among their supporters even in the face of the shocking footage from Saturday, but there will be no other option if they turn out to be regulars at The Den.

It would be easier for Millwall, relatively speaking, if the troublemakers turned out to have bought the tickets on general sale. At least some distance would have been placed between them and the rioters. That may well still turn out to be the case but, as it stands, the evidence so far would suggest that, like the arrest figures, for all the decent, law-abiding fans Millwall have, they cannot shake their violent minority, who picked the worst day to resurface.

Credit AVB in defeat as Tottenham get serious

What Andre Villas-Boas probably meant to say when he claimed on Thursday that Tottenham had "set the standard" in the Europa League for English clubs, was that they were the first of the country's leading teams to take it seriously.

Unfortunately, the way it came out in his post-match television interview suggested that he believed Spurs had outperformed any other English side, which is not even true this year, let alone in recent years of the new format. But he does deserve credit for taking the competition seriously. Football should be about winning trophies.

FA brings the noise – and typically goes one louder

Before the teams came out for yesterday's semi-final, you looked around Wembley to see people in conversation shouting to be heard or struggling to hear. That was because the FA, in its wisdom, saw fit to engage Reverend and the Makers and The Enemy in a "battle of the bands" performance that was just too damn loud.

I am yet to meet the person who went to a football match and came back talking about the live music.