In a dif­fer­ent era, this could have been much more dam­ag­ing

Scenes on Thurs­day pose ques­tions of all par­ties – es­pe­cially over away tick­et­ing

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football - SAM WAL­LACE

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

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