In a different era, this could have been much more damaging
Scenes on Thursday pose questions of all parties – especially over away ticketing
He was ejected during the first half and walked past the Emirates press box with a look of mild embarrassment, the kind of late-middle-aged chap with glasses and sensible shoes who would almost certainly leave his details under your windscreen wiper if he accidentally scratched your car.
His crime on Thursday night was to be a Cologne fan in the Arsenal seats, a man who clearly could not imagine missing his club’s first game in Europe in 25 years, especially against such a famous opponent. He was around the right age to have been a teenager when Cologne won the last of their two Bundesliga titles in 1978 and here he was 39 years on, after all the relegations, clutching his programme as the stewards led him away.
When Cologne scored after nine minutes, their fans who had “infiltrated” the Emirates – Arsene Wenger’s words – could not control themselves. They broke cover in celebration and many Arsenal fans in the area around me responded. Their demands that stewards remove the largely inoffensive, albeit extremely excited, supporters felt only part of an anger that was also about the goal conceded and the general malaise around their club.
In the Clock End of the ground there were some Arsenal fans who felt unsafe among so many away supporters and aggrieved that they could not be protected by their own club. Some of them voiced their concerns to me as they came into the west stand to find seats. The footage of barriers being kicked over by Cologne fans did not reflect well on those involved, and the German club duly apologised for that behaviour in their statement later.
Yet there were around 20,000 German fans in London with only 2,900 official tickets, many of whom had been drinking, and only five arrests were made.
By the time it was announced that the game was delayed, those with tickets waited patiently outside the stadium for a resolution. The fans held on the footbridge from Drayton Park also did so peaceably, behind a line of Metropolitan police.
The decision to play the game, by Arsenal, Uefa and the Met was the right call, most likely borne of the assessment that anyone on the ground around the stadium could see: that the German crowd was boozy and boisterous but not up for fighting.
By equal measure there was no hardcore of Arsenal fans seeking to defend their territory. Perhaps those kind of fans do not exist in the numbers they once did, or perhaps, as one Arsenal fan explained to me, it was because the game was not at Highbury. “There’s no love for the Emirates, but Highbury was different,” he said. “Highbury was home.” The
lack of severity in the Uefa charge that has been levelled against Arsenal – stairways blocked in the away supporter sections – suggests that the governing body felt the home club did little wrong in the circumstances.
There is an instinct from English fans to contrast Thursday’s events with the way they are treated overseas, which is understandable. Another Arsenal supporter emailed to point out the police tactics he often faces. “My friend and I have had a pen confiscated at the San Siro, and a bag of boiled sweets taken from us at the Camp Nou. But a common feature of every away-day has been how Arsenal supporters have been segregated and very highly and severely marshalled in a no-nonsense fashion by local riot police.
“It beggars belief, therefore, that the Met should turn a blind eye as thousands of Cologne supporters caused significant disruption to the West End, then allowed them to travel, en masse, to the Emirates, where their objective of causing as much mayhem as possible was apparent from early on.”
Any mayhem was more about getting into the ground rather than trouble for the sake of it. A wider question is how the touts Arsenal have blamed for contributing to the lack of segregation managed to spot a red-hot market that the club missed. It might be that in this new age, larger numbers of travelling fans can be accommodated if there is a will on both sides to make it work. After all, this was a game that Cologne fans had been waiting to see for years. Their behaviour in the 1980s was much worse, and in their 1986 two-legged Uefa Cup final against Real Madrid the German club were forced to play the home game in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium because of crowd trouble.
This time Cologne’s club statement was robust, apologising for the bad behaviour of a small number of fans. Both sides will know that in a different era, the events of Thursday night would have played out in much more damaging fashion. There should have been a way of making sure more Cologne fans who wanted to see such an auspicious game in their history had a chance to do so, because the night in question was much more important to the man I saw chucked out, than to those who asked for his ejection.
Any mayhem was more about getting into the ground rather than trouble for the sake of it