Saturday, August 29, 2009

Football tribalism

Thwack, bang, crack, capow.
In the movies when they punch people, the sound is very perceivable of fist hitting skin yet in real life when someone throws a punch the sound makes no more than a dull thud at best.
One Saturday a year or so ago in the UK heading back from watching my team Charlton Athletic lose 2-0 at Ipswich, the train I was on got delayed quite quickly due to rioting in a carriage resulting in severe damage necessitating police action. It was merely a precursor of worse to come. Getting back into London I dived onto the Northern Line and made my way to London Bridge where I then waited on platform 5 for my 8.38 down to Paddock Wood.
Three West Ham fans walked past, turned the corner and were heading to the loo. A mirror copy of them - fat, bald, pointed face, unhealthily white but with a light blue Millwall shirt on - turned to one of the West Ham fans and sneered, “You’re scum”.
“What’s that, mate?” replied the West Ham fan. “West Ham… scum,” came the rasping reply. These two teams are old foes. Quickly the atmosphere on the platform turned dark.
One of the West Ham supporters tried to keep it civil but the Millwall fan kept baiting them. Eventually two of the Hammers lads drag their most aggressive mate away and head to the loo. But, as they approach the door, he hands his friend his stuff like his phone and glasses and says, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a moment.” He swivels round, walks up to his nemesis and plants a huge punch on the Millwall fan’s face. The scuffle starts.
The antagonism had been big and all three West Ham fans lay in to the Millwall guy who quickly falls to the ground. He’s getting kicked, he’s getting punched. He stands. The whole platform sways and is watching horrified at proceedings. He gets up, his face bloodied. He spits and a couple of teeth clatter onto the platform. The West Ham fans have taken a bit of a beating too and their faces look puffy. The Transport Police are called. The skirmish continues in and out of a train carriage, delaying trains.
These two teams brought football into dispute once again this week with massive carnage over at Upton Park. It is sad that something so tribal and yet so frivolous as football continues to cause such damage to the reputation of this country, damaging our bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

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