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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Man United - violence's common denominator?

Anyone who can work out what I might have been doing in Istanbul in May 2005 will quickly realise that I'm no fan of Manchester United.

The team that Fergie built always annoyed me. Not their successes. Every trophy gets won by someone each season. But the fact that the authorities always seemed to side with them. Jammy decisions, long minutes of extra time when they are losing, no away penalties at Old Trafford...

It all added up to a genuine annoyance factor.

But now there's a new reason to be concerned about Manchester United. Let's rewind briefly to the Eighties to explain this fully.

In the late Seventies and early Eighties, English teams dominated European football. In only a few seasons, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa all claimed the European Cup. Other teams like Ipswich and Tottenham claimed the UEFA Cup.

Even Everton and Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen won the Cup Winners Cup. Europe simply couldn't compete with the British footballing juggernaut. The only rivals they had were each other.

Then came Heysel. The facts of Heysel, despite a number of different investigations, remain unclear. But what is certain is that UEFA approved a delapidated and dangerous stadium for the 1985 European Cup final.

Then local police, who swiftly lost control of the Juventus and Liverpool fans flooding to the game, allowed overcrowding to develop to dangerous levels in some parts of the ground. An hour before the game, trouble began between the two sets of fans.

It is believed by a number of eye-witnesses that members of the infamous Chelsea Headhunter gang were responsible for initiating the violence from within the Liverpool crowd. Whether this is true or not, the trouble began in the Liverpool end.

Then the wall collapsed, and in the aftermath, 39 people died, mostly Juventus fans but including one Irishman Patrick Radcliffe. UEFA made sure the game continued despite the deaths, but once the game was over, they made Heysel - which was in part their own fault for choosing a deathtrap for a European final - the excuse to throw all English teams out of Europe.

It was a popular decision with clubs from other countries. They felt they might stand a chance of winning something again. English clubs were banned from European competition for five years, and Liverpool six.

While occasional trouble still marred the terraces in Britain in the Nineties, it was nowhere near as bad as the hooliganism had been only a few years before. Sporadic, occasional terrace or post-match scraps would occur, but nothing remotely like on the scale it had previously.

But following a series of studies, the removal of terracing and the creation of the Premiership, soccer violence became extremely rare in Britain by the time that English clubs were permitted back into European competition.

And so to this season, and why we should be concerned about Manchester United. Last night, in Rome, Manchester United fans fought with Italian police in and out of the ground. No doubt, the London press will highlight harassment of fans, claim the police were heavy-handed, point out how local 'ultra' Roma fans attacked and targetted the poor English.

I'm sure this will occur, because that's exactly what happened the last time that Manchester United fans were involved in trouble abroad. When was that, you may ask? Less than two months ago, actually, when again Manchester United fans were involved with clashes with police, in France on this occasion.

Now, once again British teams are becoming dominant in European competition. Liverpool winning the Champions League, Arsenal making last season's final, Chelsea perennially in the semis. Even clubs like Middlesborough and Celtic reaching the UEFA Cup final.

As the Guardian's Paul Doyle has astutely pointed out, such is the financial dominance of English teams that, more even than during the early Eighties, English football dominance in Europe is set to become the norm.

So, when Man United's fans get into trouble on the terraces with police in two different countries in two months, I start wondering what the common denominator is. And the answer is, of course, Man United's fans.

And then I think back to how Heysel was used as an excuse to break English dominance of European football competitions, and I wonder how many more terrace rampages from United's band of travelling thugs it will take before UEFA decides to ban English teams in Europe once again?

Update, Friday 6th: And now we have Spurs fans rioting in Seville in Spain, and it has emerged that UEFA chief Michel Platini wrote to every FA in Europe last month in strong terms warning about violence being the poison that is killing football. How long before English clubs get banned? One more incident? Two?


Dario Sanchez said...

United's fans are just overly militant. And if you think I'm a Licverpool supporter, think again. A lot of Liverpool followers are equally as thuggish in this country. Only the Arsenal fans seem to have an unblemished reputation amongst the 'Big Four' of English football.

United fans have always had a 'God is on our side' attitude that frankly annoyed me, and I was pleased to see the Italian fuzz charging up the terraces last night. Roma were also deserved winners. The fact that I'm wearing a Roma shirt now ... well ... it's not bias, but ...

JC Skinner said...

Heh heh! Dunno about the Gooners, to be honest. I saw a few thumping French people following last season's Champions League final in Paris, but they were a genuinely tiny minority and it was a big and sad result for them.
I don't think Liverpool fans have a bad reputation, to be honest. IN fact, the opposite. The Kop is known to applaud and cheer opposing fans and players, and you'd need to go a long way back - probably Heysel in fact - to find an example of their wrongdoing.
United's fans don't generally have a bad reputation either. But there is definitely a problem with their travelling support this season. And I'm worried about how that could affect other British clubs in Europe.

seanachie said...

No fan of Man U (and some of their travelling support were certainly acting menacingly in Glasgow in November) but eleven of their number stabbed might point to something more than 'just looking for trouble'. Also, knowing the incompetence and brutality of both French and Italian police I am inclined to sympathise with them in the last two cases.

JC Skinner said...

But how many other teams have gone to Italy and France this season without any bother?
I appreciate that Italian football has problems in relation to their own violent culture, but this is happening every time Man Utd leave the country.

beano said...

As a Leeds fan, I hate United (and their fans) as much as the next guy. But the news pictures today did make it look like the police were battering the fuck out of Man U fans who were trying to retreat, meanwhile Roma fans charged at the partition with only a handful of stewards who make the Eventsec numpties at Northern Ireland matches look downright useful!

The Voice of Treason said...

We had this discussion before JC, about how much I hate football, and this is one of the reasons. At GAA matches, there is no segregation and no violence because people realise, shock horror, it's only a game. Why does football bring out the worst in people sometimes?

JC Skinner said...

VoT, you and I both know that there's often violence at GAA fixtures. Junior clubs in Wicklow were especially prone of fisticuffs on and off the pitch as I understand it.
This vision of the GAA as some glorious Platonic paradigm of ball sport is just Celtic Twilight nonsense.
Anyhow, in relation to games actually played in more than 4/5ths of one country, it seems like Spurs fans kicked off in Spain last night.
How many more instances will UEFA permit before they ban English teams again?

daktara said...

you have a very nice blog

Des Traynor said...

"this is happening every time Man Utd leave the country."

Eh, Twice? I doubt the lads were parading around Rome screaming "Stab me, Stab me quick!"

Hows this for another "Common Denominator"

Middlesborough go there, and their fans get stabbed as well. Italian football is rotten to the core.

Incidentally, Liverpool fans are no angels, either at home or abroad.

JC Skinner said...

Des, Liverpool fans have not been implicated in foreign violence since Heysel.
Manchest United fans have been at the centre of it twice in two months.
I've already highlighted how Italy have a problem of their own in relation to hooliganism, but as the Italian media pointed out, plenty of other teams have come to Italy in recent times without incident.
Oh and the Italian police and Roma fans were not present in France when Man Utd fans kicked off there in February.
It's exactly this ostrich in the sand approach to Manchester's hooligan element that will get English teams banned, you know.
And seeking a ban of Italian clubs, while possibly warranted, will only make it easier for Platini to sign a second country-wide ban into effect.
And he would do that tomorrow if he thought he could get away with it.
My nightmare scenario is an all-English final in Athens.
If that transpires, especially if it is Liverpool and Man Utd, whose fans would effectively be travelling together on the same trains and planes, I can't see how it wouldn't result in a trashing of the Greek capital and a lengthy ban for all English teams.

Anonymous said...

what an ignorant bunch of pricks! the trouble in france was caused by overcrowding an end and you of all people should know the consequences of that particular tragedy! to sat that the scousers are angels in regard to their support beggars belief. talk about burying ones head in the sand or should it be their arse. a bigger lot of thieving, jewellry shop robbers you couldn't find, plus tha added bonus of being useful with stanleys! i just wish your shower of shit could win the league then we won't have all you so called comedians moaning about successful teams. twats.

JC Skinner said...

Oooh, look. Another abusive Man Utd fan hiding behind self-serving nonsense and anonymity!
Suck on this Mr United:

"Police and football fans clashed tonight ahead of Manchester United’s home game against AS Roma.
Up to 100 people were involved in the street fights with Greater Manchester Police officers at Manchester’s Old Trafford football ground.
Police dog units and mounted officers became involved with a series of scuffles with supporters close to the stadium’s front entrance on Sir Matt Busby Way.
Fans are understood to have hurled bottles and missiles at police lines outside the ground."
So it looks like your precious angels were lying in wait for the 1000 Roma fans in Manchester tonight, and are rioting with cops right now. British cops, not Italian ones, that is.

Des Traynor said...

First of all, I wasn't abusive and at all, so to label me as being abusive is just silly. Also, I'm not anonymous.

I am a Manchester United fan.

I'm not burying my head in the sand, there are millions of united fans, inevitably there will be heaps of scum amongst them. (There are heaps of scumbag Liverpool/Chelsea/Celtic fans too)

Tonight outside the stadium the 1,000 Roma fans were not travelling with the club. (2,800 travelled with the club, and stayed well clear of the hassle). The 1,000 fans were waving knives at the scumbag element of Man United fans, who inevitably responded (probably enraged by the fact that United fans got stabbed in Rome).

Yes, United have a scumbag element. But to imply that they're the worst in England, or that they will be to blame for Englands bad reputation is a bit much.

JC Skinner said...

Des, I was referring to the post by anonymous, when I referred to the anonymous poster obviously, not you.
Firstly, let me congratulate you on a truly superlative win against Roma tonight. It was the best possible response to the troubles that have beset the club in Europe in recent times.
Secondly, I concur that every club has their scumbag element.
I just hope that should the dream final occur, Liverpool V Manchester United in Athens, that all the fans who travel will respect the fact that they are in someone else's country and behave accordingly.

Andrew said...

Its spelled Middlesbrough btw. Anyway, Duing the Roma - Boro game in the uefa cup last year, the Roma Ultras charged groups of Boro fans in the squares and there were stabbings, etc. To blame ManU for the Roma 'riot' is the easy option. Blame them for the trouble in manchester (the following game) by all means yes, but certain other countries have a far more serious and sinister hooligan element to worry about.

If english teams get kicked out of europe again, it will be a disgrace considering the rampant racism of spain and certain eastern european countries, the hooliganism of italy and holland, etc.

Anonymous said...

you do nothing to enhance the reputation of your city being full of 'tick' uneducated scouse loving ginger tossers

jog on..........to be sure