Pitch invasions and missile-throwing are in the news again. Andrew Turton reflects on the events in Cardiff that kicked it all off
Every few years, the FA Cup comes up with a shock result, the sort of scoreline that almost invites the double-take. Well, there’s a new one to add to that list after the incredible scenes at Ninian Park on January 6, when Second Division Cardiff City beat Premiership leaders Leeds United.
But the day after the game, it wasn’t the result that was making the headlines, so much as the behaviour of the fans. Coin-throwing and a pitch invasion featured in what looked like a return to the bad old days of football hooliganism. Oh no, not again!, A return to the Seventies and RIOT! screamed the headlines. You would be forgiven for thinking that the game was abandoned due to non-stop fighting, with smoke from burn-ing cars and looted shops providing an eerie backdrop to the awful proceedings. But was it really that bad? As you’ve probably guessed, no, it wasn’t. To most Cardiff fans, it’s been a big fuss about nothing. Sadly, the FA doesn’t see it the same way.
The game itself was a joy to watch, a very evenly matched contest, and an outsider watching would have been hard pushed to tell which was the Premiership side. Cardiff raised their game, Leeds played like, well, like a Second Division side. Only worse. David O’Leary had plenty to say for himself afterwards, but rather than ask why his multi-million pound team bottled it, he spouted on repeatedly about the pitch invasion, the coin and bottle throwing, Sam Hammam’s walkabout, and, oh yes, some pretty scary singing.
The throwing of objects is simply not on, and the offenders must be traced and prosecuted. However, apart from that there was precious little else going on at Ninian Park that doesn’t happen at grounds all around the country. Indeed, a lot of the things that the press was so quick to pounce on also occurred at other games that very same day.
The famous pitch invasion was nothing of the sort. At the final whistle, the gates were deliberately opened by stewards to allow fans on to the pitch to celebrate a marvellous result. Sure, some fans ran to confront the away supporters, but there was no fighting and the police quickly dispersed the crowd. In fact, if they had been a bit sharper, the police could have prevented the two rival factions getting as close as they did.
And there was certainly no invasion during the game, unlike the three invasions by Manchester United fans at Villa Park that same day. As for Sam’s walkabout, well, he’s been doing that for nearly 20 years, and it has rarely been seen as a cause for concern. O’Leary called it “incitement”, but Alex Ferguson can leap around on the pitch for as long as he likes. We could go on. Cardiff fans weren’t the only ones throwing things – the Leeds fans were doing it too but according to the FA it wasn’t “sustained”, so they’ve let them off. It wasn’t that long ago that David Beckham was greeted with a hail of missiles at every Premiership ground. This season Sol Campbell was a target on his return to White Hart Lane with Arsenal. And what happened about that? That’s right – nothing.
Cardiff are not denying that any of those things happened. But the majority of the events reported wouldn’t even have made the local papers, except for the fact that all the nation’s media were at Ninian Park. So Cardiff City now find themselves under investigation. This will be carried out by the FA of Wales, which for some reason came as a complete surprise to the English FA. Desperate to bring Cardiff to justice, the FA first insisted on having their own representative on the FAW enquiry, then set up their own parallel investigation. They also issued veiled threats that they would enforce sanctions of their own if the FAW didn’t punish Cardiff severely enough. This didn’t go down too well at FAW headquarters. But it seems that, one way or another, Sam Hammam and his club will pay.
Sam’s reaction to this is the same as that to everything that threatens the club. He sees the club as his family, and as a family, they must all look after each other. It’s true that Cardiff have always had a problem with a small hooligan element, and the chairman’s novel approach to this has been to attempt to befriend them. To a certain extent, this has worked, and Hammam turning up to meetings and travelling on fans’ coaches to away games has engendered a certain mutual respect between owner and supporters. As a result, trouble at City games has reduced considerably. Sure, there are still some who travel looking for trouble, but that’s the same with all clubs. A quick look at the National Criminal Intelligence Service website will show that despite all rumours to the contrary, football-related violence has not gone away, with practically every single club listed, some a great deal more often than Cardiff City. Sam Hammam’s actions have helped to calm some of the more unruly followers, but at the Leeds game there were six or seven thousand people there who weren’t “in on the deal”. You probably won’t see them again until the next big game.
It may appear as though Cardiff are unwilling to accept that they have a problem. That is not the case. Most people know that there is a problem in football as a whole, and that some Cardiff fans do contribute to it. The club are trying to remedy that, but it’s not just their fans that misbehave. There are another 91 clubs out there, each with their own little Soul Crew. So let’s have a fair and even-handed campaign to wipe this sort of thing out, and not resort to knee-jerk reactions just because it’s little Cardiff City.
From WSC 181 March 2002. What was happening this month