Joy­ful spirit at Olympic Sta­dium turns sour for West Ham

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

The joy­ful spirit from the 2012 Lon­don Games has gone from the Olympic Sta­dium, re­placed in­stead by ha­tred and ugly skir­mishes. West Ham’s new home, con­verted into a soc­cer sta­dium with the seats newly painted in the team’s claret and blue col­ors, has been marred by vi­o­lence this sea­son as small mobs cre­ate a toxic at­mos­phere dur­ing matches. Fur­ther disor­der erupted in the clos­ing stages of Wed­nes­day’s game against Chelsea, with bot­tles, coins and seats hurled be­tween ri­val fans and seven peo­ple ar­rested. Such un­rest — and far worse — was a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence in the last cen­tury, but English au­thor­i­ties thought they had con­tained the prob­lem. “Foot­ball has be­come a bet­ter, more wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment for a wider fan base,” sports min­is­ter Tracey Crouch said yes­ter­day. “No one wants to see a re­turn to the dark days of the late ‘70s and ‘80s. It is com­pletely right that strong ac­tion is taken and that any­one in­volved in last night’s trou­ble is banned for life.” The cause of the dis­tur­bances, which Crouch called “des­per­ately sad,” is per­plex­ing au­thor­i­ties. Why should a club, which was renowned in the past for hooli­gan­ism, see a re­vival of a vi­o­lent el­e­ment of its fan base just by mov­ing a few miles across east Lon­don from Up­ton Park? Se­cu­rity num­bers were in­creased in­side the stands and riot po­lice sta­tioned around the streets of Strat­ford for the visit of Chelsea. But there are prob­lems seg­re­gat­ing fans in a sta­dium that was not ini­tially de­signed for soc­cer and had to be par­tially re­built after the Olympics to make it suit­able for West Ham, which has a 99-year lease. Al­though Wed­nes­day’s game was a Lon­don derby, it was in Eng­land’s sec­ond-tier League Cup com­pe­ti­tion when weaker line­ups are typ­i­cally used by teams. And beat­ing Chelsea 2-1 to ad­vance to the quar­ter­fi­nals pro­duced a rare bright mo­ment this sea­son. But a vis­it­ing Chelsea fan said he was hit by an ob­ject soon after Cheikhou Kouy­ate headed West Ham in front in the 11th minute. “As soon as they scored there was abuse be­ing hurled over and we were watch­ing the game and all of a sud­den I felt a mas­sive thump on the side of my head, think­ing it was a bot­tle or a stone,” Steve Cut­ting said. “I put my hand up to my head and re­al­ized I’d been cut. I looked down and there were some coins, 50p (pence) and pound coins.” The English Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion has opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the lat­est dis­tur­bances. The English Foot­ball League, the or­ga­niz­ers of the League Cup, is work­ing with the clubs and au­thor­i­ties to iden­tify the per­pe­tra­tors of the vi­o­lence. West Ham was known for hav­ing an or­ga­nized group of hos­tile sup­port­ers called the “In­ter City Firm,” ac­tive mostly in the 1970s and ‘80s and at away games. The movie “Green Street,” re­leased in 2005, was based on the group. Be­hav­iour among West Ham fans sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved in re­cent years, al­though there have been iso­lated in­ci­dents, in­clud­ing at the club’s last game at Up­ton Park in May when the Manch­ester United team bus was at­tacked.

A bot­tle is thrown as ri­val sup­port­ers and ste­wards clash dur­ing the English League Cup soc­cer match be­tween West Ham United and Chelsea Photo: AP

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