Tragedy, 'Hooliganism', Perspective

On April the 15th 1989, an FA cup semi-final was to take place between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium. A neutral ground chosen to host the match despite previous reports raising concern over the capacity of the stadium. The 1981 FA cup semi-final held between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers should have been a warning sign when a serious crush occurred in the Leppings Lane end, causing 38 injuries. On this day 24 years ago, an FA cup semi-final did not take place; the worst stadium related disaster in British history did.
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96 football fans travelled to support their beloved club, unaware that this would be the last time they did. As described by the Taylor report, a failure of police control was responsible for the loss of 96 victims between the ages of ten and 67 and the injuries of a staggering 766 people.

Today is a day to remember the Hillsborough disaster, remember the tragic loss of 96 loved ones, and pay respects to the 766 injured and traumatised by the event. Unfortunately and ironically, a weekend of embarrassing behaviour committed by a minority has propelled itself into the spotlight instead.

Fast forward 24 years, and Wigan face Millwall at Wembley in the 2013 FA cup semi-final. The prospect of one of these historic teams playing European football next season is a truly exciting one, not only for both sets of fans, but for football supporters in general. Two teams underestimated by many have proven they have the ability and mind-set to overthrow favourites such as Everton and Aston Villa to secure their deserved places at Wembley.

Wigan worked extraordinarily hard and Maloney rewarded the fans with a goal in the first half. The winning side doubled their lead through McManaman's goal in the 78th minute. However what should have been a day for historical and victorious celebration on Wigan's behalf instead became a day of shame due to a minority of thoughtless "fans".

Blood was spilt and tears were shed as fights broke out between a number of Millwall fans, thought to be instigated by a debacle between two families. After the violence was witnessed by millions on the television, football fans were pounced upon as the 'revival of hooliganism' was announced. 14 fans have been arrested (12 Millwall, two Wigan) for affray, class A drug possession, possession of an offensive weapon, ticket touting and assault on the Police.

Both Wigan's glorious victory and 90 minutes of good football were overshadowed by the mindless actions of a minority. Accusation, disgust and embarrassment were the overriding emotions on a day that should have been fuelled by pride, passion and joy.

The following day, violence persisted after the Tyne-Wear derby between Sunderland and Newcastle as 29 fans and three Police officers were injured after fights were initiated. Reports documented that bins were emptied to salvage bottles to hurl alongside missiles at the police. There has even been photographic evidence of a Newcastle fan punching a Police horse.

Again, the actual football taking place was overlooked due to an inconsiderate minority attracting the medias attention. The derby was Di Canio's second game in charge; he managed to come away with the clubs first victory over their fierce rivals in over a decade. Di Canio and his Sunderland squad achieved a proud result rewarding them with a crucial three points through three goals, which was diminished by the overpowering emphasis on the violence that occurred.

The succession of violence this weekend is a huge embarrassment to fans, managers, club owners and football as a whole, but that isn't recognised. When violence occurs in football, the word "hooliganism" flashes in neon lights for everyone to see. Prior to this weekend "hooliganism" was not something being discussed or warned about, but post violence the word has been thrown about carelessly.

The actions of those involved are not condoned and punishment should be enforced as violence has no place in modern day football, but consistent exposure could potentially provoke an increase of violence in football. The question to pose is, if the violence at Wembley had not occurred, would the violence following the Tyne-Wear derby ensued? It is arguable that the second bout of violence could well have been copy cat behaviour, fuelled by the passion of the game and necessity to win a derby, but acted on because of Saturday's events.

Andy Ambler, the chief executive of Millwall FC said "having worked so hard to show the positive side of our club both on and off the field, we cannot allow the actions of a mindless minority to undermine that." This is true not only to Millwall  but to the footballing community as a whole. The football industry receives little commendation for achievements and the well behaved majority, but is instead treated as an industry that is responsible for "hooliganism" - a problem that realistically stems from society. This enables the industry to be labelled with a foul reputation once the actions of a minority justify it.

Embarrassment is not just caused by fans, as the Hillsborough tragedy proved, but today's anniversary must add perspective; yes this weekend has been shameful, but not every weekend is and yes a minority of people have behaved disgracefully, but this behaviour is rare in the majority of football fans.

Today is a day to remember the Hillsborough disaster, remember those who suffered and the families that continue to suffer. Today is not a day to dwell on the actions of a shameful minority who continue to reinforce the belief that football homes a "hooliganistic" culture.

Football is a culture that remembers the Hillsborough tragedy. Football is a culture that provides an outlet for supporters. Football is a culture that does not condone "hooliganism."

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