Sports Letter: No red carpet at Rotherham

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The Independent Online
Sir: Last Saturday, my brother and I, two middle-aged professional men, travelled to Rotherham to support Newcastle United in the FA Cup. On arrival at the ground we took our places at the end of the Tivoli stand allocated to Newcastle supporters. The Tivoli stand, like the rest of the crowd accommodation at Millmoor, is primitive and dilapidated; a dark shed with terracing running down to the touchline. Three-quarters of the stand was allocated to Rotherham supporters and they were separated from the away fans by a line of police officers.

As the time for the kick-off approached, both sets of supporters became more aggressive in the chants that they hurled at each other. Despite the fact that much of the behaviour was provocative and threatening and conducted in the face of the police, no attempts were made by them to remove any of the offenders.

As 3 o'clock drew nearer, there was a strong likelihood that matters would get out of hand. We moved into the corner of the stand furthest removed from the Rotherham supporters. I was not aware of the exact moment when the Rotherham supporters lunged through the police line. Instead, a sudden roar was followed by a crush of bodies that flung me forward and up against the barrier separating the terraces from the pitch.

I found myself staring into the face of a steward who was screaming at people not to push. However, we faced the prospect of being overrun by several hundred supporters apparently bent upon inflicting harm upon anyone in their way. The press of bodies behind me increased and I was unable to breathe or move my arms.

Just as panic was about to take hold, the pressure eased slightly and I managed to throw myself sideways and grasp the railings to my right. A police officer then helped me over and on to the safety of the track. We were escorted to the other side of the ground to the stand allocated to the bulk of the Newcastle fans. As we walked past the main stand I looked in amazement at a man in his seventies as he screamed invective and waved his fist at me. What had we done to deserve this?

Once in the safety of the other stand we watched an engrossing Cup tie in relative safety. At half- time, we went in search of refreshments and toilet facilities. We found ourselves with mud oozing over the tops of our shoes as we fought to negotiate an unpaved open space towards a refreshment stall where we were expected to queue for the privilege of buying a plastic cup of Oxo served across a filthy counter which was graced by the presence of a cracked bowl containing sugar stained many shades of brown by the slops and spills of those who had gone before us.

Turning away with our appetites strangely reduced, we were confronted by a row of supporters urinating up against the concrete rear wall of the stand as young children, girls and women battled past towards the toilets. However, those relieving themselves were quickly dispersed by the flood of urine that cascaded from above as those inside the stand disposed of their pre-match pints against the corrugated iron which formed the upper wall of the back of the stand.

My brother and I left before the end, not wishing to risk being caught up in any after-match confrontations between rival fans. We will not return to Millmoor nor will we visit any other football ground where we are unable to obtain seats.

I am once again cynical about the reasons many of my fellow fans follow their clubs. Saturday at Millmoor was, for me, reminiscent of the worst experiences at football grounds in the Seventies. The adage that if you treat people like animals then they will behave like animals seemed to be borne out by my experiences in South Yorkshire.

The Taylor report does not go far enough for me. Millmoor and grounds like it should be closed forthwith before another, albeit smaller-scale, Heysel or Hillsborough occurs.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN PRESTON

Riding Mill

Northumberland

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