We must stop football’s dark days returning

John Inverdale
IF YOU associate the name of Margaret Thatcher with sport at all, it will probably be in the context of football hooliganism, and the ill-fated identity card scheme that she advocated following the disasters at Heysel and Hillsborough. For the generation of fans who know nothing of football life before the Premier League came into existence in 1992, tales of violence in the ‘70s and ‘80s appear more like TV fiction than fact with every passing year.

As a teenager who ran to escape warring factions in Birmingham, Cardiff and Oxford, to name just a few, I can tell you they were all too real, and there is nothing remotely romantic or exciting about watching someone have their head caved in thirty minutes before kick-off.

So how gruesomely appropriate that sandwiched between Thatcher’s death and her memorial service, we were given a reminder of what really were the bad old days, courtesy of some Millwall fans at Wembley.

It’s easy to throw stones at the boys from the east end, and some will take a perverse pleasure in it being Millwall that have taken us back in time. But actually, it’s a shame. The ultimate bad boy club have made giant strides in the past two decades in improving their reputation, but the ashen faces of their management as the disgraceful scenes unfolded revealed that they knew how serious the implications might be – and should be.

Without overstating the extent of the aggro, the tried and tested defence of an “isolated incident” and “mindless minority” just won’t wash because in 2013 this has to be a zero tolerance issue.

Irrespective of the action taken against the culprits, the club also has to be banned from the FA Cup for a season and fined substantially.

Twenty thousand plus empty seats also showed the continued folly and undermining of the FA Cup by staging the semi-finals at Wembley. But that’s an issue for another day. For now, the football authorities have a more pressing issue to deal with. A reminder of the Thatcher era when football was a dirty word.