Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

FA culpable over thugs

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: Police officers wield batons as they attempt to stop Millwall supporters fighting amongst themselves during the FA Cup with Budweiser Semi Final match between Millwall and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on April 13, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Getty Images)

I chatted to several perfectly sensible football-loving people over the weekend who are utterly convinced that Uefa rigged' the Champions League draw so that we might have the dream' final of Barcelona against Real Madrid.

Bayern Munich are capable of stopping that happening but, anyway, I have never believed that football authorities have the gumption or the competence to rig anything.

How else would you explain the Football Association even entertaining the prospect of seeing Millwall in the FA Cup Final by drawing them against Wigan?

The sport should breathe a huge sigh of relief that we've been spared the possibility of a repeat of Saturday evening's appalling scenes at Wembley. I wasn't there but, despite ESPN's obvious attempt to 'look away', we all saw the ugliness of what happened.

Whether the club itself should be held accountable I don't know.

Millwall has been trying very hard to improve its image and many of its fans were wearing T-shirts in support of a local hospital. But there are reports that many of the Millwall tickets ended up in the hands of people that don't support the club. How else can you explain 'fighting amongst themselves'?

The FA should be asking itself why it allows television to dictate the later kick-off time encouraging 'fans' to get 'tanked up' beforehand and, certainly, it took no account of the fact that Wigan supporters couldn't possibly catch the last train home.

As if fans matter, eh? But the lunchtime start to the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday didn't prevent crowd trouble there.

What I found particularly disturbing watching the scenes at Wembley was that many of those involved were middle-aged men. They weren't the young thugs that so disfigured football in the 70s and 80s. But, then again, perhaps they ARE those same young thugs returning to the game now that their banning orders have lapsed?

Anyway, it was a relief to watch an infinitely better second semi-final on Sunday.

Whoever won between Manchester City and Chelsea, you'd be off your rocker to think that Wigan will beat them in the final.

'The Latics from Lancashire', as Jon Champion repeatedly called them forgetting that Oldham also come from thereabouts, will have to take consolation in playing European football for the first time.

As I made my way home, several questions sprang to mind. Why did Rafa Benitez not change things earlier as Jose Mourinho would have done in similar circumstances? Why have Manchester City suddenly sprung to life with those wins at Old Trafford and Wembley?

That's the City that rampaged its way to the title last season with Yaya Toure again looking like an unstoppable war machine in the middle of the park and even Nasri was putting in rather more than '50%'. It's as well United have that unbridgeable gap ...

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