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Monday, October 25, 2021

How racial abuse of a steward sparked violent Wembley clashes with police

The Metropolitan Police’s statement describing “minor disorder” belied what those at Wembley saw with their own eyes. These were ugly scenes with fans in the Hungarian section pushing back police into the stadium concourse.  Punches were thrown and police used batons as they attempted to control the situation.

There were empty sections of seats either side of the Hungary section, meaning surrounding fans were not endangered by the trouble. But it still raises the question of whether it is an arena where parents would want to take their children to watch football.

And who could blame them for having second thoughts about whether Wembley is a family-friendly destination for a high-profile game after the Euro 2020 final in July. Then, walking from Wembley Park tube station to the stadium meant running a gauntlet of drunken fans, thrown bottles and open drug-taking.

On that day, Wembley was the pilgrimage for “jibbers” who get into stadiums without a ticket. It was not a safe place for those in the disabled section in front of the press box, which was invaded, nor in the section for the families of England players.

At least the level of security required for an England match seemed to be at a more adequate level three months on from the Euro 2020 final. On that evening, as 250,000 people descended on Wembley Park, there did not seem to be enough stewards or police presence. For the Hungary fixture the police presence was visible and acted swiftly.

The Football Association’s investigation will shine a light on the organisation of these two matches which have been overshadowed by violence. Their swift statement, issued as England drew 1-1, said that Fifa would be given their findings.

To be given another high-profile game for a Fifa or Uefa tournament will need those findings to lead to assurances of the stadium being a place to take fans of all ages to matches. At the moment it is associated with the dark side of football fans.

The mortgage has almost been paid on the £789 million project but in those 14 years since opening it needs to adapt to the times too. 

To have any hope of hosting the biggest games in world football, Wembley and Met Police should start by making Wembley Way a ticket-only area. It has always been a dangerous bottleneck from the top of the stairs at the entrance of Wembley Park tube station, where fans stop for selfies of the famous arch.

Even after the game on Tuesday night, witnesses saw drugs being exchanged and fans so drunk they could barely stand. One troublemaker was shouting abuse at every person they passed, while medics tended to someone who had fallen to the ground.

It was noted that there were no police on hand at that time of night, adding to the atmosphere of being a place not fit for families.

That half-mile walk has a designer outlet with restaurants and cafes at the other end. It should be a place associated with the joy of fans enjoying their pre-match festivities before a big game. Yet it is now synonymous with carnage.

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