‘We feel unsafe – Cologne fans are everywhere in here’
Crowd trouble delays kick-off by an hour Wenger thought match might be postponed
Cologne fans kicked barriers down amid chaos around the Emirates Stadium that delayed Arsenal’s Europa League group game for an hour before the scheduled 8.05pm kick-off – with fears that the 20,000 German fans who had travelled to London would try to storm turnstiles.
Arsene Wenger said after the game that he expected Uefa to investigate what led to the huge numbers of ticketless German fans delaying the game, although the early indications were that the governing body would not charge the home club.
The game finally kicked off at 9.05pm with Cologne’s away end in the Clock End at the southern end of the stadium packed and sizeable groups of the Bundesliga club’s fans all over the ground. The delay was decided upon by Arsenal, the Metropolitan Police and Uefa because the huge numbers of German fans outside the stadium had caused a safety problem and home fans were unable to access the stadium.
This was Cologne’s first European tie in 25 years and the game against such famous opposition had attracted great interest among the club’s large fanbase.
The estimate was that there were 20,000 Cologne fans in London for the game and only 2,900 tickets allocated for the travelling supporters, as per Uefa regulations. During the day a large crowd of Cologne fans marched through Soho and then into Oxford Street which they brought to a halt. The Met Police said that there was “no significant disorder” although some footage taken on a mobile phone showed Cologne fans kicking over barriers in what seemed like a bid to get close to the stadium. Five people were arrested for public order offences and there were also large numbers of Cologne fans congregating and singing in a concourse in a home area of the ground.
By half-time the atmosphere among home supporters was angry with frustration at the lack of segregation that forced many of them to move from their seats, as well as their team’s performance. Arsenal trailed 1-0 at half-time to a goal from Jhon Cordoba in the 10th minute, but they came back to win the game 3-1 with second half goals from Sead Kolasinic, Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin.
Wenger said that the greatest dis-
traction for him was the discussion before the match about possible rescheduling if the game had to be postponed.
“I had all kinds of plans to think about,” he said “Do we play tomorrow? What time? Or next week? At some stage I thought they will not play the game. I cannot see the police taking any risk. We live in a society of 100 per cent security and I though they wouldn’t take the risk. Our supporters dealt well with the situation. I don’t know how the Cologne fans managed to infiltrate our fans and they got everywhere. ”
By contrast, the Cologne coach Peter Stoger refused flatly to entertain any questions on the conduct of his club’s fans.
Under Uefa competition regulations, Arsenal are likely to escape with a warning at the very most for their delayed kick-off especially as it is their first offence in this regard. Given that the decision was made in concert with Uefa officials it may well be that there are no consequences, although the smoothrunning operation of a club experienced in European competition was disrupted in unprecedented fashion. Arsenal will be fined €500 (£444) for every flare let off in the stadium.
The Met Police later said that extra officers had been called in. There were 110 police officers scheduled to be on duty and the club said that extra stewards had been deployed although anecdotal reports from fans said that the stewards themselves had claimed to be “short-staffed”.
There were so many Cologne supporters in the Clock End of the stadium that supporters who felt unsafe there were given the option by stewards of moving to another part of the ground. One supporter, Adam Kenney, 24, from Market Harborough, told The Daily Telegraph that he was a club member and asked to leave the Clock End, eventually relocating himself in the West Stand. Kenney said: “We feel unsafe, there are Cologne fans everywhere in here. I was told by a steward to go to the North Bank.”
After the opening goal by Cordoba after nine minutes, there were celebrations all around the stadium with groups of Cologne supporters jumping up to acknowledge their goalscorer in the areas behind the substitutes’ benches. Some Arsenal fans angrily called upon stewards to clear the away supporters but in the Clock End it was notable that there were Cologne fans in every tier of the stadium, even in the premium seats on the “Club Level”.
In making the decision for the match to go ahead, the Arsenal director of communications Mark Gonnella said that the club were “comfortable” with the situation having consulted with Uefa and the Met Police and were happy for the match to go ahead at the later kickoff time.
Red alert: Police confront Cologne fans (left), who had earlier swamped Oxford Street (below). Once the match started, Alexis Sanchez (above) was able to celebrate his wonder goal