Kick Aston Villa Out of FA Cup to Prevent Another Heysel Disaster
It comes to something when the most derided party in the wake of the disgraceful scenes at Villa Park at the weekend was the English Football Association for arranging the kick-off to start at 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon.
The FA was, we’re told, asking for trouble by arranging the fixture at a time that would allow fans to spend the afternoon drinking before attending the quarterfinal Midlands derby between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion.
That’s like lambasting a bartender for serving a beer. It’s the customer’s responsibility not to drink too much, not the bar for providing the service.
If we are looking for blame how about the hyena packs of hooligans rampaging onto the pitch and terrorizing the players? Fabian Delph was even bitten by one of his owns fans after scoring in the 2-0 win for the home side.
How about the parents who allowed young children – I’m talking about ten and eleven-year-olds – to be a part of that baying, ugly mob?
Then there are the sick thugs who found it amusing to hurl coins at West Brom’s Craig Gardner every time he took a corner?
Even worse, shouldn’t the kind of people who would rip up their plastic seats and hurl them at the fans sitting below, women and children among them, be in prison and not watching a sport we still like to call family entertainment?
I hesitate to blame the woeful lack of stewards or Villa’s naïve practice of putting the away fans in an upper deck stand above rival home supporters – allowing the seat throwing idiocy – because those in charge of such things may be forgiven for thinking they are dealing with civilized human beings.
Has everyone forgotten Heysel? Thirty-nine fans lost their lives on May 29, 1985 at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels as a result of fighting between Liverpool and Juventus at the European Cup Final.
It was the zenith of increasingly violent behavior among football fans, particularly English football fans. Hooliganism was known as the English disease.
I know at first hand just how dangerous it became. As a journalist in the 1980s I was assigned to follow the hooligans on their disruptive path around the world and write about the shameful phenomenon.
I watched these English oafs causing mayhem from Holland to France, to Italy and South America.
I also saw friendly Dutch supporters with their orange hair and oompa bands, cheerfully drunk Irish fans making friends with anyone with time to join them at the bar, whether they could understand them or not, Brazilans partying into the wee hours with no care to the neighbors but never missing a step, Italians honking their horns in gridlock chaos every time they win a game.
The tattooed boors who followed England with their skinhead haircuts and nationalism more reminiscent of Nazism than St George were generally insensitive, insulting and intimidating. They would attempt to turn every lovely little Italian ristorante, Brussels bar or Dutch pub into a braying, chest-thumping version of the Shed, the Kop or whatever corner of their home ground they felt most at home spewing their hatred.
For years, I have told friends in the United States that such hooliganism doesn’t really happen in England anymore. They were quaint stories akin to the days when bobbies were on the beat and telephones were attached to the wall.
The policing of football matches in England has done much to quell the violence over the years, but it’s also a mentality. The germs of hooliganism have always been there; it just kind of went out of vogue.
Some recent events have led me to believe that may have changed. Villa Park underlined those fears.
Here’s what I think should happen to stop a return to the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s..
Firstly, the result should be reversed and Aston Villa should be disqualified from the FA Cup, with West Brom replacing them in the semi-final. It is the only way to get the point over to the fans who purport to care so strongly about their team – by showing them there are consequences to their behavior.
There’s no point imposing financial penalties on the teams; that means nothing to the supporters.
Then every photo and video of the fans involved in the Villa pitch invasion should be studied and compared to photos of season ticket holders. Anyone identified should be banned for life.
There must be a strong response otherwise, mark my words, it will happen again and next time somebody could get hurt.
Remember Heysel. There’s no room for these animals in the modern game.