an idiot in london

August 2001

Saturday, 4th August 2001.

"One last thing," Jon said, "don't wear colours tomorrow afternoon." Jon was taking the threat of violence between the Spurs and Millwall supporters seriously, and I would've been a fool to do otherwise.
"No worries Jon, I'll be wearing my running shoes in case I have to leg it!"

During the week I had read warnings that there was going to be trouble on Saturday afternoon. Spurs were playing Millwall in a "friendly" at the New Den - Millwall's home ground in South London.

We met up with Sarah and Kev at London Bridge, and we took the train one stop to South Bermondsey. None of us were wearing Spurs gear, and we were surrounded by Millwall supporters on the train there. We wandered down to the ground anonymously, or so we thought, until we made a turn towards the visitors' end of the ground.

"Oi! Oi!" I made the mistake of looking up at the creature that was, er, addressing me. "Let's get it on!" he continued, "You're not at West Ham or Arsenal now yid, let's get it on!"

Bright lad that I am, I quickly figured that this was not an invitation for a quickie behind the bike sheds, more likely the thug was looking for a rumble. I put my head down and walked to the turnstiles as quickly as I could without looking like I was walking to the turnstiles as quickly as I could. If you get my drift.

All four members of our party regrouped inside the ground. We found a steward, who seemed deeply disinterested in our tale of what happened outside. Sarah had been threatened, even though there was a police officer standing nearby.
"This bloke said 'I'll f&%@in' stab you', and I said to the old bill 'Are you going to do anything about that?' and they bloody well didn't they just stood there." Emotions were running high and the game hadn't even started. Jonny was called a "f%&#in' Jew boy" outside the ground. Nobody said anything to Kev. He's big and mean-looking. But has a sunny disposition!

Apart from being disinterested, the steward advised us that if we wanted to avoid trouble on the way back to the station we should leave ten minutes before the end of the match. This goes against my strict "stay til the end" policy, but in the interests of self-preservation I was prepared to waive that policy for the day.

We sat ourselves down in the stand (which is a strange concept when you think about it) and waited for the match to start. There was a nasty feeling in the air. Jon pointed out a couple of known hooligans, which he thought was a bit worrying. "I saw him arrive at the Arsenal match with bits of glass in his head and blood streaming down his face." Hmm, charming.

The match kicked off soon after its scheduled time. There was a bit of niggle in the match, with an ex-Spurs player playing in the Millwall defence hacking the Spurs forwards at every opportunity. Stuart Nethercott wasn't an elegant player at Spurs, and he's gone hatchet since he's been at Millwall.

There were sections of the Millwall crowd that are still living in the dark ages. One of the Spurs defenders is black, and every time he had the ball the Millwall supporters would make ape noises. The stewards standing near these neanderthals (neanderthals? in the dark ages?) took no action.
"This is what watching football was like in the 80s," said Jon, "that edge in the air, racist taunts, it's not nice."

And Jon was right - it wasn't nice. You didn't need to be Einstein to work out that there was going to be trouble on the way back to the station. (The Millwall fans chanting "You'll never make the station" was a bit of a giveaway.) Looking around I saw a very mixed crowd, including many families.

I'll be honest right here. I was bricking myself. The worst crowd trouble I'd ever seen in Australia was when a bloke chucked beer over someone else, and he was ejected for wasting beer. There was a lot of aggro at the New Den, and the meagre sprinklings of stewards and police was doing little to calm me. Or the crowd.

The sections of opposing supporters nearest each other were giving it plenty. Lots of gesticulating, lots of shouting, and possibly a little bit of foul language. Ten minutes before the end all the hoolies from both sets of supporters left, presumably to have their own pre-arranged ruck somewhere. We thought it best not to leave at that stage, lest we get caught up in it. Safety in numbers, we figured, and we decided to leave with the rest of the crowd at the end of the game. Well, safety in numbers in that a big group of Spurs supporters would be less likely to be attacked than a smaller group, despite the fact that either way we would be outnumbered four-to-one.

Full-time came, and Spurs had won 2-1. With some sense of trepidation (there's a phrase you won't see too often on!) we filed out with the rest of the crowd.

Outside, a large gate had been closed to separate the exiting Millwall and Spurs supporters. A crowd of Millwall youths were pressed up against the fence, spitting vitriol and hurling bottles and whatever they could lay their hands on. (Later I found out that they had used up much of their ammunition on some of the poor unfortunates that left the game early.) We turned up the street towards the station, and I could see a few hundred Spurs supporters in front of us, and a police van some 30 metres ahead.

It was then that we heard the roar. A large group of Millwall hoolies charged the crowd, and broke through the thin blue line with ease. The ten or twenty police had no chance. At this point the entire crowd turned and started running towards me. Jon and Kev legged it, and I figured that this meant I was supposed to leg it as well. After a short sprint back to the ground we looked around for each other. Kev was easy to spot, but Jon and Sarah were nowhere to be seen. Sirens were screaming, and a divvy van (paddy wagon, whatever you want to call it) roared through soon after. The stewards, stung into action, told us to get inside the ground and wait for the police to mop up any trouble.

There was considerable anger amongst the Spurs fans. (that's a polite way of putting it. In reality they were pissed off.) Pissed off with the pathetic police presence and at the dithering nature of the stewards. Women and children had been caught up in the trouble.

I phoned Jon, he was in the stand above us. Kev was on the phone to Sarah, and she turned up soon after. "I just stood there and everyone ran past me!" She said that kids had been knocked over left right and centre, and she met a Swedish couple who had no idea what was going on. They'd never seen crowd violence before either.

After some time we ventured out again with the remnants of the Spurs support. Our plan was to leg it again if there was any sign of trouble. Jon reckoned our previous sprint was the fastest he's run in a very, very long time. And I'd agree with that. Outside the ground, still some children were crying, and the Swedish couple looked absolutely bewildered. As we turned into the main road and the two sets of supporters mingled, the heavens opened and it bucketed down. We were drenched in seconds. The perfect end to a perfect afternoon.

"The thing is," I said as we stood in a pub in London Bridge later that afternoon, "I don't feel like we won."

POSTSCRIPT: In the days following I read reports from other Spurs fans who were at the match. It looked like we got away lightly - supporters who left earlier bore the full brunt of the Millwall fury. A group of Spurs supporters had arrived in the morning and had been very naughty. The post-match troubles might have been some form of retribution, although in all truth I don't think they needed an excuse. Those supporters leaving early had missiles thrown at them upon exiting the ground, and then were charged with venom by the Millwall crew (brandishing knives and other weapons) en route to the station. Nasty business. Bloody good thing the Chelsea bunch didn't turn up, as had been rumoured.