The Matt Holland Column: Banish the madcap minority, or we risk ruining the game

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The Independent Football

It seems to me that football is lurching from one disaster to another. No sooner is a strike averted than a high-profile court case involving high-profile players concludes. Before the ink is dry on numerous columns castigating those involved and the stain on football, others are caught behaving in a public bar in a manner that would appal a family of chimps.

It seems to me that football is lurching from one disaster to another. No sooner is a strike averted than a high-profile court case involving high-profile players concludes. Before the ink is dry on numerous columns castigating those involved and the stain on football, others are caught behaving in a public bar in a manner that would appal a family of chimps.

After the excess of Christmas, what do we get next? More players arrested and bailed and then, worst of all, a grim reminder that hooliganism has not been eradicated but is merely lying dormant.

One spark was all it took; in truth it's all it ever takes, which is why we have to be so vigilant, but I never expected a club chairman to be part of the cause. What was Sam Hammam doing walking around the ground during last week's FA Cup tie between Cardiff and Leeds? The hype before the game, much of it generated by him, incidentally, suggested to any sensible-thinking person that this was a potentially explosive encounter. I am not blaming him for the pitch invasion – the crowd was so frenzied that that would have occurred anyway – but by taking up position behind the goal and gesticulating to the crowd in a manner that would embarrass a WWF wrestler, he did nothing to prevent the trouble. Indeed, it probably made matters worse.

The one thing that football cannot afford is hooliganism. What we saw last week in Wales, and when Manchester United fans stormed the pitch after two goals at Villa, was hooliganism. The bottles and coins – let's call them what they really are, missiles – amount to hooliganism. We are very lucky that in these incidents no one, player, official or innocent fan, was hurt. Players do many silly things, but they do not deserve that.

I have been involved in a pitch invasion, and can honestly admit to being scared. During last season's Worthington Cup semi-final against Birmingham, a section of their fans steamed on to the pitch. To begin with, I was confused, and a bit nervous, but as they kept running at and surrounding us, I got frightened. Who wouldn't? I did not know what they were going to do. It was very intimidating and not something I wish to be part of again.

Apart from the obvious physical dangers, the other problem with violent and hooligan behaviour is that it breeds more, and often worse, incidents. I do not believe that the later events in the week, the missile-throwing at the Chelsea-Tottenham match and the incidents at Millwall, would have occurred if there had been no trouble in Cardiff and at Aston Villa. There is a mindless minority who are nothing more than copycats. They see bad behaviour and that gives them ideas to do the same. That is why it is absolutely vital that every incident is dealt with swiftly and firmly. Quite simply, ban them. If we fail to, we will ruin the game.

One of the most satisfying aspects of Ipswich's Uefa Cup run was the praise given to our fans by the other clubs. Those who travelled to Sweden, Milan and Moscow were wonderful ambassadors for Ipswich Town. Their behaviour was exemplary, as it should be, and they enjoyed the cities we visited and the matches we played.

Our chairman, David Sheepshanks, has an excellent rapport with the fans. After all, he is one himself and always has been, and often spends a lot of time before games chatting with supporters. This proves that close relationships between a chairman and fans are possible without recourse to inflammatory behaviour or to hype.

Sam Hammam wants to be one of the "people", loved by the fans as one of them, and that is very laudable, but he must condemn rather than excuse the events at Cardiff. The standards have to be set by those at the top. Sheepshanks believes in discipline, on and off the pitch, by everybody involved with the club, and that is partly why our players have excellent disciplinary records and our fans are rarely, if ever, involved in trouble. We must all realise that hooliganism is the biggest threat to the game.

As for the players arrested in west London, one has to wonder what they were thinking. Footballers are human beings, not hermits. But surely all are aware of the scrutiny of their actions in this current climate. I do not know what happened in the private club they were at, but I do know their timing could not have been worse.

In contrast, ours at Ipswich could not be better. The signing of Marcus Bent is looking better with every game he plays and every goal he scores. His arrival and the return of Marcus Stewart should help us climb out of the relegation zone. I am confident that we will survive, because we have rediscovered the resilience that served us so well last season and we are scoring – 17 in our last six matches have helped us to win four out of five League games. What we need to do is to continue this good run for two months. It really is vital to put together a sequence of wins. Southampton have proved how quickly a team can climb the table. Having completed the double over Spurs we need to do it over Derby, and that makes Saturday a crucial six-point match.

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