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In Britain this has been a great week for turning the clock back promoted by the death of Lady Thatcher and a necessary look back at her legacy.

Yet it is too simplistic to see the riots by Millwall fans at the Wembley semi-final as a return to the old spectre of football hooligan. There is, of course a historical twist to this. With the riots coming just days before Thatcher was laid to rest it was natural to reflect that it was Millwall and their riotous fans back in 1985 filling British television screens with violence which first prompted the Lady to think that the only solution for such behaviour was more stringent police control. This, followed by other acts of football hooliganism that caused deaths, led to the dreadful, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to impose ID cards on football spectators.

Yet to see the Millwall and Newcastle fans behaviour in the same light as that of 1985 would be utterly wrong. English football still has problems but they are not what they were in the mid 80s. However, if it is to the credit of the English game that it tried to deal with the scourge of hooliganism and racism there are still far reaching questions that the English game, both the authorities and the fans, need to tackle.

It is easy to say that the violence of Millwall fans was due to the fact that with the match starting at 5-15 fans had a lot of time to drink. So it is television scheduling that is to blame.

I am afraid that will not wash. In other sports, like rugby, for instance important matches begin late. I seem to recall the Six Nations match between Wales and England this season began at 5 pm. Did that not provide plenty of time for drinking? Did we hear of drunken hordes of English fans who had gone to Cardiff to lift the crown smash the place up because England failed? If they did I missed the story.

Now the immediate response to this is football is different. But why should it be? Football is part of society and must conform to the laws of society.

And this is where football for a long time now has wanted to have its cake and eat it.

Football makes much, and rightly so, that it is a community sport. It springs from society and meets society’s needs.

Yet the society around football has changed dramatically since the game took its present shape in the Victorian times. Go to any football ground on match day. The grounds are in the middle of generally terraced housing. When that stadium was built most of the fans would have lived round the stadium. Match day would have been a Saturday. They would have worked, often in a factory, in the morning, gone to the pub, walked to the ground and then walked home for tea. Indeed the distance from their home to the stadium was often a case of opening their front door, walking for a few minutes and reaching the turnstile. Now they come from long distances.

They come in cars, coaches or other public transport. Now it is the people who live in these houses, many of whom have no interest in football, who have to adapt and change. Notices are up saying how on match days they cannot park their cars in certain placed because of football traffic. If they have visitors coming to their homes they have to tell them that parking and driving to their house, an unremarkable affair on non-match days, is now a police operation. I know ladies with no interest in football who suddenly exclaim, “Oh dear I forgot Chelsea are at home and I have people coming for supper.” These people put up with it because they knew they were buying a home near a football ground and this creates an obligation.

But have the football fans who travel to these places been told they have an obligation to respect them and not create trouble? I do not find many examples of such advice given.

Then take the behaviour of fans inside the ground. Yes, possibly, the Millwall and Newcastle fans were drunk, Millwall so drunk they attacked each other. But even when drink is not involved have we not seen extraordinary behaviour by football fans?

I can remember going to any number of matches where a very respectable looking man, and it almost always a man, in a seat not far from me suddenly gets up and begins to spout obscenities of the vilest kind. His body is convulsed, he is often spitting and foaming in the mouth. He gives the impression of being one of those characters in the old horror movies where a scientist trying to create an artificial human being presses a switch and a wax model becomes a monster.

But when this happens what do his fellow spectators do? Do they tell him to stop behaving like a mad man, remember this is just a football match. No, they just shrug and say this is football. The problem is football has tolerated such behaviour for far too long.

You do not see this in other sport. Such indulgence has in my opinion bred a culture where football fans, albeit a minority, believe that extravagant, disgraceful, behaviour is something that is expected of them and will be tolerated. They are expected to be pantomime villains, if of a vile kind, and want to revel in it. From that it is one short step to the sort of scenes we have seen at the weekend.

It is not good enough to say these are mindless fans. We the vast majority of football fans and the football authorities have given such fans a license to behave badly for a long period. As long as they do not cause violence and wreck the place we do nothing. But by indulging their behaviour we are encouraging them to believe that should they turn violent it will not matter.

It is time football asked what it can to make fans aware that they have an obligation to society. Passion must be combined with decent behaviour. Passion is not a license to behave disgraceful. If it is then that is passion that has no place in football or any game.

      

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