ENGLISH football is a world of extremes, and nothing exemplifies that better than the recent images of Millwall fans fighting amongst themselves in the stands of Wembley Stadium. Cameras were rolling as fists went flying and little girls started crying. People in the stands reported that drug use was rampant in the stands before the melee, and the FA is under fire for giving Millwall fans enough time to get well and truly drunk by scheduling the game in the late afternoon.
I have been put in a tough position by the fracas at Wembley. I wrote an article late last year detailing my trip to watch a Millwall home game and spoke about how it was a surprisingly safe experience at a stadium that gave off the raw atmosphere of local community football. I had never been a Millwall fan before the match, however watching the team play from the supporters stand was such a great experience that I ended up taking them on as “my team”.
The experience that I had at Millwall could not have been any further from the scenes beamed across the world of the club’s fans acting like watered down 1980s hooligans. The supporters I came across were mostly families taking a day out to watch their favourite team take to the pitch. Despite the club’s reputation as racist thugs, half of the supporters in the bay were from an ethnic background. The Millwall fans bonded over more than football: they spoke about their families, their work and other issues affecting the local area. It was not about getting drunk and hurting someone else. It was about being a part of a community.
I had intended on joining Millwall FC as a club member going into the 2013/14 season. I still intend on signing up. Why? Because the only way to combat the hooligan element is to show that not every fan of a certain team is a drunken thug with a chip on their shoulder. The fans arrested at Wembley last week do not reflect the majority of good, salt of the earth people that take the train to South Bermondsey every week to watch the team play.
The Millwall fans involved in the stadium brawl at Wembley did their club a significant disservice with their hooligan actions. That being said, we should not shy away from football because a handful of fans made themselves look like mugs. I am a Millwall fan. And I will continue to be.