In the mid 70s about 50 Saints supporters, me included, were chased up Milton Road by around 500 Manchester United fans. Modern football hooliganism in England was about to reach a peak that would last for nearly a decade.
On the terraces it was a weekly bloodbath. Along with thousands of others I left the game I loved to the thugs. Off the terraces it was a weekly game of who’s to blame – football or society. But the game went on. At no time during the decade of despair was a game called off because of the possibility of disorder.
And the hooligans were contained and convicted. Football was regained by supporters from those who came to bury the opposition, not to praise them.
Last night, two cup games were called off because of the possibility of disorder. An international game at Wembley has been called off for the same reason. Not because of a threat from rival crews threatening to take their loathing for the other team to the streets and the terraces with blades and zip guns. But because a few hundred teenage hoodies might be helping themselves to a new mobile from a shop window.
With the Tory government absent without leave (well, on leave actually – that’s the problem) and the police seemingly paralysed, trainee hooligans and their older siblings are having a riot. And unfortunately football supporters are missing the opportunity to make a real stand.
Instead, what is claimed to be traditional terrace humour has just been chants to invade Tesco. Idiotic supporters on twitter have repeated the same nonsense. And have cried foul when the police have taken it seriously. The England players – hardly role models – issued a statement condemning the recent thuggery and urging people to turn away from violence. It’s time for football fans to finally renounce their hooligan history and be unequivocal and consistent in their condemnation too.
So don’t praise Nick Griffin and the racist BNP for ‘protecting’ the streets just because a few footie scarves are being warn. And don’t sing songs that encourage violence, even as a joke.
On the terraces at Southampton the song still reverberates about “shooting the Pompey scum” – deliberately louder and more frequent when we are on TV. It’s not funny. It’s certainly not clever. It’s no different in intent to the sectarian garbage which blights some games north of the border.
There must always be a passion about our game. Saints must always be better than Pompey. It goes without saying. But you can be passionate without encouraging violence, even in jest.
I don’t sing about shooting fellow supporters. Never have, never will.
It’s time for football fans, once again, to stand up to thuggery. And it’s time the music (or at least the violent and sectarian music) stopped once and for all.