Pun­ish the thugs, but don’t blame Mill­wall

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

PUNCHES, kicks, scuf­fles with trun­cheon­wield­ing po­lice. Ter­ri­fied kids in floods of tears. Blood­stained, snarling faces. But this wasn’t some doc­u­men­tary on the eight­ies. This was Wem­b­ley in 2013. This was hooli­gan­ism, old style, res­ur­rected by the dark art’s most in­fa­mous ex­po­nents.

“Who played the ball for Wi­gan’s sec­ond?” asked one col­league.“Who cares,” said an­other.“There’s only one story to­day.”

And that is the mis­er­able truth of it. In the five min­utes it took a bunch of mup­pets to set about each other, ev­ery­thing good about Mill­wall’s re­mark­able run to the FA Cup semi-fi­nal was shred­ded.

Far worse, Mill­wall’s “fans” lived up to a stereo­type that, for many years now, has been un­war­ranted. All the com­mu­nity work, all the ef­forts to drum out trou­ble-mak­ers, all the painstak­ing hours spent detox­ing a poi­sonous rep­u­ta­tion – all laid waste by a gag­gle of mo­rons in pic­tures beamed around the globe.

That those iden­ti­fied should face life bans is not in ques­tion. Per­son­ally, though, I think it would be ex­tremely harsh to pun­ish the club.

Mill­wall’s av­er­age gate is 10,459. At Wem­b­ley, they had over 30,000. That is one hell of an un­known quan­tity.

Of course, some may have been reg­u­lars us­ing the per­ceived anonymity of a large crowd to un­leash sup­pressed ag­gres­sion. If so, more fool them.

How­ever, I be­lieve the vast ma­jor­ity of the 50 or so trou­ble­mak­ers were ca­su­als who ar­rived with the ex­press in­ten­tion of hav­ing a fight. Is that really Mill­wall’s fault?

Some say yes. Mill­wall sea­son ticket hold­ers have their in­for­ma­tion stored on a data­base, a sys­tem that has all but erad­i­cated hooli­gan­ism at the Den.

Yet they were al­lowed to buy ad­di­tional tick­ets that could be passed on to any­one, with thou­sands more placed on gen­eral sale.

Is that ir­re­spon­si­ble? Hardly. Sure, the Lions could have re­stricted sales to sea­son ticket hold­ers and mem­bers. But can you imag­ine what the FA would have said if Mill­wall had pitched up on na­tional TV with just 10,000 fans? They’d have been mor­ti­fied – which is why they pub­licly praised the club for sell­ing so many. If Mill­wall are to blame for try­ing to fill Wem­b­ley, so is the FA.

Trust

What’s more, Mill­wall used ex­actly the same pro­ce­dure for Wem­b­ley play-off fi­nals in 2008 and 2009, both of which passed with­out in­ci­dent.

There was noth­ing to sug­gest this would hap­pen. Nor is it de­sir­able or nec­es­sary to con­trol peo­ple all of the time. This is not a po­lice state. Some­times THINK of Crys­tal Palace and you think of Wil­fried twin­kle-toed Zaha, the

winger with a £15m tag. But if you want price are slid­ing to know why Palace

head­long out of look be­yond the play-

the mer­cu­rial offs, form to the Ivo­rian’s

rather more poor Owen Gar­van. pro­saic fig­ure of

A won­der­ful tech­ni­cian foot, Gar­van had a left

with a wand of a nine as­sists and

knee prob­lem wrecked five goals be­for the e year. his sea­son

He it was who at the turn of picked found the gaps

the passes: the and With Ini­esta to Zaha’s

him, Palace were Messi. With­out two points

him, they have off sec­ond. last 18 won just five

games, and of the than haven’t scored seven hours in more

of foot­ball. Gar­van has had

his de­trac­tors at Sel­hurst Park but

is show­ing in ab­sen­tia just how

good he is. there just has to be an el­e­ment of trust. Mill­wall put their trust in peo­ple by putting tick­ets on gen­eral sale. The FA did like­wise play­ing the match at 5.15 in the af­ter­noon. And true Lions fans put their trust in oth­ers not to tar­nish a hard-earned rep­u­ta­tion.

Ninety-nine times out of 100, it would be re­paid. This time, it was not. The thugs who be­trayed that trust are the only ones at fault. They are the ones who should bear the full brunt of any pun­ish­ment. WE al­ways knew that Portsmouth would lose ten points when they came out of ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Now the Foot­ball League have an­nounced that the penalty will be im­posed this sea­son, not next. This begs the ques­tion: what is the sense in tak­ing points from a club that has al­ready been rel­e­gated?

In 2007, Leeds en­tered ad­min­is­tra­tion with rel­e­ga­tion from the Cham­pi­onship al­most as­sured, prompt­ing a rule change to avoid such abuses of the sys­tem.

As a re­sult, when Southamp­ton went into ad­min­is­tra­tion late in April 2009, the au­thor­i­ties waited un­til the end of the sea­son be­fore im­pos­ing the sanc­tion. Had Saints sur­vived, the penalty would have been used to r el­e­gate them. In the event, they went down un­der their own steam so ten points were docked the fol­low­ing year.

On the face of it, Pom­pey would ap­pear to be an iden­ti­cal po­si­tion. Yet both Leeds and Southamp­ton de­lib­er­ately tried to cheat the sys­tem. Many of the peo­ple who caused the pr oblems re­mained at the helm.

In Portsmouth, that is not the case. Those who racked up the debts – Alexan­dre Gay­damak, Su­laiman AlFahim, Ali al-Faraj – are long gone. Vladimir Antonov, the last bona fide owner, is fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion to Lithua­nia.

Now, the peo­ple in charge ar e fans, the very peo­ple who have suf fered most. Where is the sense in pun­ish­ing them, es­pe­cially when you con­sider that this is the same ad­min­is­tra­tion for which they were docked ten points in 2011-12.

Nor have they tried to pull the wool over any­one’s eyes. Had things gone to plan, the Pom­pey Sup­port­ers Trust (PST) would have bought the club in Novem­ber and gladly taken the hit.

In­stead, they have been ham­pered at ev­ery turn by former owner Bal­raim Chain­rai’s grasp­ing ef­forts to claw back his cash. Chain­rai was of fered £3m for Frat­ton Park months ago but point­lessly dragged the PST to court

it is lit­tle sur­prise that the Robins’ boss got the hump.

“It dis­ap­pointed me and it made the play­ers an­gry as well,” he fumed. “It was crass and to­tally un­nec­es­sary. I’m not too happy with the pow­ers that be for al­low­ing that.”

Still, it could have been worse. A few years ago I was at Kid­der­min­ster when a Bur­ton Al­bion player fell the­atri­cally to the floor

Clearly narked by his histri­on­ics, the tan­noy an­nouncer waited un­til the physio ran onto the pitch, then – in a stroke of ge­nius – pro­ceeded to play the theme tune as “treat­ment” was given. The Bur­ton bench were fu­ri­ous but the rest of us were in stitches. in a bid to get more.

Only at the very last, when he re­alised his game of brinkman­ship had failed, did he cave in and ac­cept the of­fer. It was point­less, costly and po­ten­tially de­struc­tive. And there was noth­ing PST could do about it.

Truth is, I would have liked to see Portsmouth bite the dust, just to pr ove that clubs can­not al­ways over­spend with im­punity in the knowl­edge that an­other white knight is just r ound the cor­ner.

But Pom­pey live. And now that they have real fans in charge with the best in­ter­ests of the club at heart, it would serve no­body’s in­ter­ests to ham­mer them again.

MISS­ING LINK: Owen Gar­van of Crys­tal Palace

OWN GOAL: Po­lice at­tempt to re­store or­der

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