Society does its best to lay the blame for Football violence exclusively at the door of football clubs. But, with the new season a few days away. John Stalker points out that a hooligan is a hooligan seven days a week.
The New football season begins on Saturday with the name of Millwall included for the first time in the First Division fixture list.
The dockland team from South East London will take its hard-earned place among the-big names of the game at a time when soccer is under the Government microscope as never before.
There are many people, inside and outside Westminster, who make no secret of the fact that they would shed few tears if this proud sport were eventually to wither and die.
Hooligan behaviour and Football avarice have lowered rnblic tolerance to a level lave not before seen in a lifetime of playing, watching and slicing football. The usual surge of
enthusiasm and anticipation as a new season begins is, this week, tinged with cynicism and doubt.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that her patience has run out with a game she admits she knows little about, and there are plenty of people who seem to toe discovering critical opinions they didn’t know they had, now that she has made her feelings known.
A national membership theme planned for next year will be imposed and protestations that it will be an irrelevancy to the problem it seeks to curb are a waste of breath.
The decision has been made that something must be done about soccer violence and the authorities will have to make it work.
Images of outrageous behaviour by drunken English supporters in West Germany this summer following so close on the Heysel Stadium disaster are far more powerful than logic. True or not, the game of football is now overwhelmingly regarded as a nursery of violence, a catalyst for crime, and no amount of sensible words will make any difference.
It is a time for clubs, supporters and the police to get their heads down and to show that they are working positively towards a trouble free season. Whinging will get them nowhere.
Millwall Football Club, more than most, has a problem. Like many problems the substance of it is less than the image but that makes it even harder to solve. There is a public belief, especially outside London, that the terraces of the compact ground in Cold Blow Lane, SE14, are peopled on Saturday afternoons by hard-core psychopaths on home leave from Rampton.
As a statement, it is as true as saying that all coppers are corrupt and every single black youth is a mugger, but as we know, stereotyping is all-important to hardening a prejudice.
It is easy to seek instant solutions by over-simplifying the issue and past behaviour of some Millwall supporters makes the club a soft target. But that is not to say there is no truth in such sweeping statements.
There are dirty-mouthed and violent elements who have attached themselves to Millwall, particularly at away matches, and no doubt the club wishes they would find something else to do on Saturdays.
These people do not deserve to suck at the club’s success and they have no right to mask the pioneering work done by the club and Lewisham Council in joint youth and community schemes.
As a club, Millwall is doing its best to distance itself from them but the worst possible way of doing that would be to deny they exist. Of course they do; but they do not exist in a vacuum. They do not change their shape on a Saturday afternoon.
A cruel and violent football hooligan is a cruel and violent hooligan full stop. There is no special point in time at which he ceases to be one and transforms into the other. It is unfair and facile to stick a club label onto a thug, whose lifestyle is the same throughout the week, because of where he goes on Saturday afternoons.
Millwall cannot solve the terror of hooliganism on its own. With the police it can keep the ground and surrounding streets relatively peaceful and it would never shirk its responsibilities if things went wrong within its sphere of control. But what it people are stabbed in Benidorm or die at horse-race meetings.
Millwall FC has worked hard to play in the First Division and it carries the dreams of many thousands of good and honest dockland Londoners. The people who run the club, and its supporters, know that many pundits inside and outside football would love to see it fall flat on its face, strangled by its reputation and with the national problems of hooliganism hung around its neck.
But for the sake of soccer, indeed all sports, the club and trouble are not, for all time, synonymous.
Criticism will be accepted openly and honestly but the, Problems of a violent society are for solving in a wider arena than that of an unfashionable South London football club. The emblem on a Millwall shirt is a lion – not a scapegoat.