This post was written by StanLDN from /r/soccer. All credit goes out to him.
The easiest way for me to give you guys some perspective is to make reference to this stadium plan:
Before I start, I’d like to first congratulate Wigan – this has unfortunately overshadowed what should be their headline. They were deserving winners and played some very decent stuff throughout. Enjoy your big day and best of luck.
Where did the brawl happen?
It happened around Block 137 in the lower tier of the west stand. I should add that the nearest Wigan fans were probably around about Block 103 and so had absolutely no involvement whatsoever. Millwall fans occupied (roughly) blocks 124-142 clockwise as well as the tiers above.
When did it start?
This is what will shock most people. I’d say the initial incident started as early as the 60th minute, maybe even earlier. We were 1-0 down at the time. I wouldn’t say it was a brawl as such until probably about the 65th minute. I haven’t seen any TV footage of the brawl any earlier than the 80th minute, or at least not before Wigan scored their second – so that gives you a feel for how long it was going on for before the cameras started to pick it up.
Why did it start?
Unfortunately I didn’t see exactly how/why it started, but I saw how it escalated from a couple of idiots to a mass brawl (as I’ll describe in more detail below). Alcohol was definitely a huge factor, but my best guess is that an argument broke out over people standing.
About midway through the second half we had by far our best spell of the game and we got 4-5 corners and free-kicks in and around the box. We were kicking towards the end where our support was, and so a lot of people stood to get a better view of set pieces etc. The problem with this is that if the person in front of you stands, the person behind can’t see, so they have to stand and it ripples backwards until everyone is standing. Couple this with the fact that people had paid £40-50 per ticket and a lot of people were sitting with young kids who had no chance of seeing with people standing – and you can see how an argument might start.
Were fans from other clubs involved?
I’ve heard a few people mention that a West Ham supporter was involved or instigated the trouble. I’ve got no evidence for this, but I did see a 19-20 year old lad who had had his shirt ripped off and was trying to get away from the center of the brawl and down the block tunnel. Even if there was a West Ham supporter there, I don’t think he would have been brazen enough to wear his shirt – so I’m doubtful this was the case.
How did it escalate?
Like I have mentioned above, this started as a small pushing and shoving incident between 3-4 guys who probably had far too much to drink. Their fighting spilled into other rows of people who were just trying to watch the game and support their team. It’s understandable with so many families about how this would spark confrontation between 3rd parties to the initial fight. At this stage, however, it seemed to be one of these things you’d assume would blow over and go away. I was trying to watch the game, so I wasn’t really paying too much attention to it.
It’s important to remember that this was a fully packed area of the stadium, so it’s not like innocent people could easily just walk away from the trouble – they were in the middle of it whether they like it or not. This is when people started shouting to the stewards and police to try and get them to sort it out.
How did it get so out of hand?
Stewards: There were maybe 40 stewards between the pitch and the stand stretched out in two rows between Block 138 and Block 129. It looked like they were there to prevent a pitch invasion or something (which, by the way – was NEVER going to happen). You can’t tell from the stadium plan, but there are little gates at the front of each block giving the stewards access between the stand and the pitch side. If they needed to, they could easily have gone up through the stand and intervened. They did absolutely nothing. They had their backs to the game, most of them were sitting and facing the crowd, but none of them were physically doing anything. Most of them seemed to be just keeping an eye on their own designated block – almost as if their solution was to let the brawl sort itself out.
Police: There were pockets of police all over the stadium – mainly gathered in the little entrances at each corner of the pitch. They were patrolling the front of the stand earlier in the first half (before the trouble broke out) some of them had video recorders, presumably capturing evidence of people drinking/smoking etc. This in itself was quite provocative of them because there was no trouble at this stage and spirits were high amongst the crowd. Next thing you know, you are being recorded by stern looking police officers who were standing at the front of the stand facing inwards like they were at some kind of zoo exhibit.
Meanwhile, Wigan had scored their second and effectively killed off the tie. This meant that the casual fans decided they would turn their attention from the game to shark around the area to see what was happening/how they might get involved (there were 20,000 more Millwall fans there than what we get on average at even the biggest league games). There was a mixture of harmless idiots like the bloke who stole the policeman’s hat, to groups of young lads egging each other on to get involved. All of whom had managed to wonder over there before the police.
The police didn’t get involved until about the 80th minute. By this stage, it was chaos. It was an absolute free for all. Most people were standing in isles trying to get away from the area. Others were just standing their ground – presumably trying to make sure they didn’t get barged into or hit with flailing arms and legs – sort of like the edge of a moshpit or something. As mentioned above, there were a lot of people who had migrated over there from other stands and we completely ignoring the game in favor of sharking around.
What about the TV footage?
I think it is slightly misleading because it only really shows you what happened when the police decided to clumsily storm the block from the tunnel. By this stage, even the innocent people were pissed off with them because they had been just standing there watching it all unfold for the past 20 minutes while people had been getting hurt etc. They came out very aggressively and people immediately turned on them. There was a lot of resentment towards them at that stage because it seemed like their approach was not only heavy handed, but too little too late.
Another thing you have to keep in mind is that Wembley is a vast stadium and the TV footage shows you a very small area of one block – maybe 15×15 seats. I think this makes the whole thing look a lot more dramatic than it actually was. As I said above, most people were just standing on the edge of it trying to avoid getting involved. There probably wasn’t more than 2-3 separate fights going on at any one time – nothing like the absurd ’50 man brawls’ I have already heard reports about.
These photos might give you guys some idea of exactly what the police’s approach was. You’ll notice from the pictures that most people in the immediate area had their back to the police/were not paying attention when they came out swinging.
There is obviously blame with those people who instigated the violence and also with those who went out of their way to come across from other blocks to get a front row seat view of it. However, this could have been nipped in the bud by a couple of police or stewards getting involved as soon as it started, then maintaining a presence in that part of the ground.
Like most football fans – this is my local club. I support them because my dad does and I grew up watching them and idolizing some of the great players we have produced. That’s no different to any other supporter of any other club. As a genuine Millwall fan who makes up one of those 12,000 regulars at home games, this kind of thing is painful to watch. I constantly try to defend my club and its reputation, only for people like this to drag our name through the dirt. I’d love to know where we’d be without this reputation. The amount of fines the club has paid over the years, not to mention the additional policing we have to pay for must be staggering. We have a team and a manager who constantly punch above their weight, but unfortunately we have a following of plastic fans who come out at high profile games and ruin it for us. Another fan on here put it perfectly – its just a pain you have to endure for the love of your team.