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Crowd trouble mars English football’s new season

August 6, 2013

LONDON (AP) — In a case of hooliganism with a twist, a stadium steward in northern England was trampled by a police horse helping to disperse spectators at the end of a League Cup match.

The incident occurred late Monday at the end of a game involving local rivals Preston North End and Blackpool, when hundreds of Preston fans invaded the pitch to celebrate their 1-0 win in the West Lancashire derby.

With the Premier League season less than two weeks away, the chaotic scenes drew indignation from both clubs as Blackpool manager Paul Ince called for tighter security at English stadiums.

During the melee, a steward was knocked over by a police horse as he was trying to bring a fan under control. The steward rolled over on the field and was then trampled by a second police mount.

On Tuesday, Preston insisted that, contrary to earlier reports, the steward was not taken to the hospital after being assessed by medical staff at the ground.

“The only steward to receive any injuries at the stadium was working in a part of the stadium occupied by the visiting supporters,” the third division club said in a statement.

Ince, a former England international and Manchester United player, called on football authorities to take further measures in order to prevent crowd trouble in the future.

“I understand that fans get excited ... but who knows what can happen,” Ince said. “We’re not listening. Has someone got to be stabbed before we listen? I wondered if we have enough stewards. You see enough situations where fans run on a pitch and I can understand fans’ excitement, but there have been enough frightening things that have happened to players that we need to stamp down on it.”

Last season, English football was marred by a series of incidents involving fans that were reminiscent of the worst hours of hooliganism in the 1970s and 80s. Wembley was the theater of violent fighting as second-tier club Millwall fans turned on each other during a FA Cup semifinal match. In Newcastle, fans went berserk following a loss to local rival Sunderland, clashing with police in the city center.

Following Monday night’s incident in Preston, the English federation said it would be liaising with both clubs and police “to get a full picture of events and what preparations were in place.”

Ince lauded the Blackpool fans for their “impeccable” behavior and blamed the Preston supporters for the incidents.

“We’ve seen goalkeepers get hit and players get punched,” Ince said. “When are we going to learn? When you’ve got 200 Preston fans running on the pitch and my players are still on the pitch, who knows? Has it got to take something else to happen before we listen? That’s not just Preston but it’s the whole football community in general. We need to knuckle down on this.”

Police said two people were arrested for criminal damage to one of the supporters’ buses outside the ground, with another four people held for minor offences.

“Due to the match being a local derby, we had additional resources in place and as a result we were able to quickly respond to the pitch invasion that occurred at the end of the match to disperse the crowds and to bring back order,” police superintendent Richard Morgan said.

“I would like to stress that it is only a minority who have been involved in the disorder, with the majority of supporters enjoying the event and getting home safely.”

Preston won the match after Tom Clarke headed in the winning goal in the 87th minute, but the club now faces the prospect of a penalty because of its disorderly fans.

The club said its security measures were appropriate and condemned the fans who invaded the pitch.

“Given the historic rivalry between the two clubs we ensured that our ground safety pre-match planning considered all aspects of potential crowd issues to ensure that all supporters could attend the match in a safe environment,” Preston North End said. “This preplanning included a significant increase in stewarding and also appropriate police presence both inside and outside the stadium.”

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