Sports Letters: Hooliganism still rampant

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The Independent Online
Sir: My impression that thuggery, hooliganism and general pig-headedness in football grounds was going out of fashion suffered a blow when I went to the Blackpool vs Port Vale game on 8 May with my wife.

I travelled 200 miles from Kent to see the game, which my father-in-law, a Port Vale fan, was watching from the Port Vale end. My wife and I had to buy tickets in the Blackpool stand behind the goal because Port Vale's allocation was sold out. I support Crystal Palace, while my wife, a Port Vale supporter, decided it was best to keep quiet to avoid any trouble.

Five minutes before the game started, two non-regulars arrived to take their places only to find that people had taken their seats. When this was pointed out to the offending Blackpool supporters, the new arrivals were told that it was 'not the way things are done round here', and if they had wanted their seats, they should have arrived sooner. With no stewards to be seen, they decided to look elsewhere rather than pick an argument with the Blackpool supporters and their drunken friends.

Twenty minutes into the game, Port Vale went ahead. In the home fans' standing area in front of us a group of 10 or so Port Vale supporters celebrated their team's goal. Home fans lashed out and one Port Vale fan was carried off on a stretcher.

Any thoughts that we were safe from the fighting below soon vanished. Blackpool supporters all around us rushed to the front of the stand as soon as the fighting started and urged on their fellow supporters. This went on for more than five minutes during which time they lost interest in events on the pitch.

When things calmed down below and Blackpool fans were back in their seats, skirmishes broke out in the stand between Port Vale supporters and home fans who were unhappy at their presence. None of the Port Vale fans had so much as clapped when Port Vale had gone ahead, but their accents gave them away.

Feeling ourselves vulnerable, even though we had both forced ourselves to stand up and applaud when Blackpool first equalised and then went ahead, we left at half-time. During the whole 45 minutes, the Blackpool fans seated close to us had been foul, abusive and racist towards the Port Vale players and supporters.

I will not try to claim that supporters at my club, Crystal Palace, are particularly angelic. But there is a rule in the stand that anyone using foul, abusive or racist language will be ejected from the ground. Stewards are there to sort out disputes over seats.

Anyone present at the Crystal Palace vs Manchester United match in April will also remember that there was a large Manchester United contingent in all parts of the ground. When Manchester United took the lead, few of them concealed their delight, and yet the Palace supporters did not react.

United's victory that day put a nail in Palace's coffin. Blackpool's Second Division status, on the other hand, had been secured in the week before when fellow strugglers Exeter dropped two home points. And just who was the away side that day? Yes, you've guessed it, Port Vale.

Yours faithfully,

MARK NEWMAN

Beckenham, Kent

13 May

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