'Small number of fans' caused football violence

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The Independent Football

Mass violence between rival football fans that saw a man stabbed was caused by "a small number of supporters" intent on causing trouble, the officer in charge of policing the match said today.

Thirteen people were arrested after clashes between West Ham and Millwall fans inside and outside Upton Park, in east London, last night.

Chief Superintendent Steve Wisbey said: "Police worked closely with West Ham Football Club, British Transport Police and the local authority to minimise disorder.

"Officers responded swiftly whilst missiles were being thrown as they tried to separate fans outside the ground after the match.

"Incidents of this nature at a match are thankfully rare, but it would appear that a small number of supporters were intent on causing a confrontation."

Minister for Sport Gerry Sutcliffe described the scenes as a "disgrace to football".

Mr Sutcliffe said: "I completely back the FA's call for any person identified as involved in the violence to be banned for life and urge full and swift co-operation from all parties in the investigation into what happened.

"We have made great progress in the past 20 years in tackling football hooliganism in this country and we will not tolerate any return to the dark days of the 70s and 80s when it plagued the game.

"We will never be complacent in the fight against football violence."

A dedicated police team will examine CCTV footage from inside and outside the ground in a bid to track down people involved. Thirteen people have already been arrested.

Mr Wisbey said: "We will proactively seek to obtain football-banning orders for those responsible so they will not be permitted in stadiums throughout the country or abroad."

Trouble started shortly after 6pm as thousands of fans made their way to the ground.

Onlookers described bricks and bottles being lobbed as hundreds of supporters rioted.

Inside the ground fans fought with police and stewards and play was suspended when supporters invaded the pitch.

Describing the ugly scenes, a 29-year-old man, who runs a kebab shop in nearby Green Street, said: "All hell broke loose, it was very frightening. It's not every day you see stuff like that.

"There were West Ham fans on one side and Millwall on the other. They were being kept apart by the police. There were West Ham fans for as far as you could see along the street.

"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."

Another fan, who described seeing about 30 police with shields and batons "storm" towards the nearby Boleyn pub, said the night "seemed to belong to another era".

Three people were taken to hospital including a 43-year old man who was stabbed in Priory Road. He is in a stable condition in an east London hospital.

The chairman of the Football Supporters Federation, Malcolm Clarke, has called for "a clear response" to last night's events.

He told BBC Radio Five Live: "It's not a good start to the season and it's important a full investigation is done, and the FA are going to do this with all parties to see exactly what caused this.

"But I think at this stage we must keep it in perspective.

"Certainly over the last 20 years the amount of football violence has radically reduced.

"It's too early I think to start drawing too many long-term conclusions, but obviously this was a very serious incident."

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers in London, called on the FA to take "the strongest action" against both clubs but FA director of communications Adrian Bevington said it was too early to condemn either club.

He told BBC Radio Five Live: "We have to understand exactly what measures were put in place last night.

"I'm not going to condemn West Ham or Millwall football clubs for any of their actions - certainly not at this stage, because we don't know exactly what's been put in place.

"And we know there have been huge efforts on the parts of all our clubs to try to eradicate the problems and we've had a history of success on that.

"However, we have to make sure that the individuals concerned face such tough actions that they can't go to football again.

"We all want a big atmosphere at matches - that's part of football, part of the passion.

"However, we also want to make sure it's a safe environment to watch games and we've just spent the best part of 20 years working towards that."

Anyone with information about the violence is asked to call the Violent Crime Unit at Plaistow police station on 020 8217 5851 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

A spokesman for England's 2018 World Cup bid joined in the condemnation of last night's violence.

He said: "England 2018 shares the FA's stance in condemning the disorder surrounding last night's Carling Cup fixture between West Ham and Millwall.

"The scenes from Upton Park were a regrettable but isolated example of a culture that the football community has worked tirelessly to eradicate from our game.

"It is extremely disappointing that the mindless actions of a tiny minority have today deflected from the passion and dedication that millions of genuine fans show every week for our national game."

Football hooliganism is a "lingering menace" among a small minority of fans, a senior policeman said today.

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, who speaks on football policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "The television pictures we see from last night are an unwelcome reminder of violence that was once commonplace at grounds up and down the country, and partly for that reason they are all the more shocking.

"Every weekend millions of people attend games and enjoy football without incident. But football hooliganism is still a lingering menace, albeit among a small minority of supporters, and we will not tolerate it.

"Over the past 20 years the UK has made steady progress in eradicating the behaviour of those intent on engaging in football-related violence and disorder.

"Less than 10 per cent of those who are issued with banning orders re-offend, so this legislation is proven and effective and the service will continue to work with clubs and the Football Association to ensure it is used effectively.

"All genuine football fans will be concerned at last night's scenes and the police service is determined to ensure that such events remain the exception to the positive experience enjoyed by the vast majority who follow football through a love of the game."