Police fear trouble at youth match on Tuesday
24 November ~ Established in 2013 as a companion to the FA Youth Cup, the Under-21 Premier League Cup is hardly the most prestigious youth tournament. However, when the draw was made for this year’s round of 32 on November 5, one tie stood out: West Ham v Millwall, in what will be the first time the two sides have met in any form since February 2012. That game, a 2-1 win for West Ham in the Championship, was one played under the shadow of 2009’s infamous Upton Park Riot, when the two clubs faced each other in the League Cup.
On a late summer’s eve, a Millwall fan was stabbed, 20 others injured and 31 arrests made. Consequently, when Millwall came to Upton Park in 2012, kick-off was moved to 12.30pm to minimise pre-match drinking, while local pubs stayed shut and alcohol was not served inside the ground. The lower tier of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand was closed to prevent missiles being thrown from above.
The Metropolitan Police class West Ham v Millwall as a Category C fixture, meaning that it carries a "high risk of disorder". As such, they have requested that Tuesday’s Under-21 match be played behind closed doors at West Ham’s Rush Green training facility with a 12pm kick-off. With youth fixtures often taking place in the evening (the game had initially been scheduled for 7pm under the Upton Park floodlights), it would take a huge optimist to think that trouble would not have ensued before or at the game.
Given the rarity of the fixture (there have been just seven meetings in the past 20 years), interest in the youth game was high. Social media and message boards from both clubs were full of fans eagerly anticipating the renewed rivalry. A similar situation has happened in Glasgow of late. Since Rangers’ demotion to the Third Division in 2012, the city has been lacking Scottish football’s biggest fixture. Therefore, when the two sides met in the Under-17 Glasgow Cup final in April 2013 there was more attraction than usual in watching the youth sides.
Crowds of over 6,000 turned up to see the game played at Partick Thistle’s Firhill Stadium, despite Rangers striker Danny Stoney being the only player on the pitch to have made a senior appearance. The game was a lively affair as smoke bombs were thrown, seats broken and five men arrested in connection with disturbances. The two clubs met again in the same competition in April this year. The game was treated like a senior fixture by supporters and also by police, who kettled Rangers fan en route to the game. It has already been agreed that next season’s final will be played behind closed doors.
A mixture of parents, scouts and club officials will watch today’s tie between West Ham and Millwall. Millwall’s development squad are coached by club legend Neil Harris, who has had a mixed start to his role as a coach. His side are currently seventh in the Under-21 League Two South Division but as the club’s top goalscorer, he certainly knows Millwall and there seem few better placed to take the next generation of players. Teddy Sheringham, the man Harris overtook to become leading goalscorer, is now an attacking coach at West Ham and takes the younger players in shooting drills. Harris, who scored the opener in the 2009 game, would no doubt love to get one over his club’s old rivals, even if few will be there to witness it. Hugo Greenhalgh