It could have been Londinium in the year 200 AD, barbarian hordes were brought down from the north to an amphitheatre, they were spat upon, spare coins and rubbish thrown at them, until they get so angry that they sent brave guards to beat a few and drag them out and parade them in front of the baying hordes before taking them away for further punishment.
It was The Emirates, year 2008 AD!
I am a 50-year-old Everton season ticket holder, main stand, as is my partner Lesley who is forty seven. We sat in the away enclosure on Saturday ticket numbers Row 21 seats 735 and 734.
Up until the Arsenal equaliser in the second half there had been the usual banter between the fans, some very amusing. However, during and after the first goal celebrations we were spat upon from above. Now this was not one isolated incident there were several of us who clearly had saliva on them including a very elderly lady behind me, women and children. (Please view this very explicit account by a chap two rows in front)
We complained to the stewards who looked quite shocked. During and after the 2nd Arsenal goal celebrations we were subjected to more spitting, liquid, food and waste raining upon us. We were informed that nothing could be done as the culprits had not been seen. We knew who they were; they were laughing and baiting the row of young lads in front of us. Now these lads in front were no angels and had been drinking but they and the rest of us were angry and the tension rose and you could feel it was about to get heated the verbal exchanges were no longer funny but threatening and the language was foul. At this point two stewards were apologising profusely to us and were genuinely embarrassed and very uncomfortable about the situation.
The trouble started when an Everton fan reached over the barrier to try and grab the arm of an Arsenal fan who was gesticulating at him over the barrier. He was quite rightly pushed back. Other Everton fans near us jumped up to remonstrate and then the police appeared and started to drag two lads over the barrier while their mates tried to drag them back while shouting “what about them upstairs they have been spitting at us” and pointed to the culprits above us.
At this point a policeman used his truncheon on a lad being dragged head first and backwards over the barrier, his jacket pulled up to his neck exposing his upper torso. At this point we were still sitting down trying to avoid the swinging truncheon. As soon as I heard the crack of the truncheon on the lad I shouted for the policeman to stop and stood and caught the truncheon and pleaded with the other police and stewards to stop this mindless thug from indiscriminately assaulting people. Lesley has informed me that I was screaming “please stop him, please”.
All very dramatic you may think, but 8 years ago my lad (now 21) suffered a severe head injury and has a large plate in his forehead. The sight of other young lads being severely beaten about the head and body was beyond my patience and understanding of civil rights in this country. All I could see and hear from above and to our left was the sight and noise of the home fans baying for blood and the sound and sight of that one policeman, his face and eyes fixed with rage and violent intent. (I have his number!)
A second policeman — this one shorter with a goatee beard — used his baton from behind the other police and stewards aiming at any away fan within reach. Once the police had removed two lads and the truncheons went away I confronted The Overzealous One repeatedly shouted his number and pointed at him so those taking photographs and video clips could clearly see who had started the excessive violence.
The Overzealous One shouted back "I can do you for obstructing a police officer," at this point I climbed over the barrier told him I was volunteering to be arrested and followed the two handcuffed lads down to the pitch side and the long walk behind the goal and towards the tunnel and custody room. During this walk I was subjected to continual threats. “This is the last game of football you will see, I’m going to see you get done with your mates, you won't be going back on your coach, you won't be back home tonight” etc. The Overzealous One was ranting.
I told him that we will see and the CCTV would sort out the truth. Lesley following me overheard these threats, and was escorted by a female police officer who informed her that I would be held for a long time and taken to Holloway police station as I had been drinking and involved with assaulting a police officer. Lesley was then escorted back to her seat and spat upon and verbally abused, when she complained the police woman asked a senior officer what to do with her, "Eject her!" was the order and Les ran up the steps to the back crying.
(On the way home we listened to radio 5 live 606, and heard an Arsenal fan explaining what he had seen and mentioned a lady running away crying. Les then spoke to Alan Green (yes him) on 606 and described her view of events.
Meanwhile in the amphitheatre holding-pen, one lad cuffed behind his back with bleeding head wound was being questioned to why he resisted arrest “cos I was spat upon and he hit me over the head” indicating The Overzealous One. A second lad brought in a minute or two later was cuffed and complained that his trousers stank because someone had thrown a cup filled with vomit at him. His trousers on one side did have what looked and smelt like vomit! He asked if he could wipe it off “Tough” was the response.
At this point the security guard, who I had been talking to before the violence appeared at the door to inform me that he had seen everything and I asked him to stay and explain. He spoke to the senior officer of the holding pen.
Meanwhile The Overzealous One starts to talk to me. Every time I mentioned the use of the truncheon he shouted “I only used it once“. After repeated interruptions I refused to speak to him and informed him that he was not going to intimidate me and that I was eager to go to court and defend myself. The Overzealous One removed himself and during the next few minutes I sat and watched proceedings.
There was a lot of discussion going on in the adjoining rooms and corridor and not a few curious glances in my direction by security and police alike. The lad with the head wound shouted over to me “you’ll be alright mate I saw you trying to stop it. Take my number, I'll stand for you”. Bless him!
The Overzealous One reappeared to take my details and started to call me Ian and treat me very differently. He said you will notice that I have not cuffed you. I presented my wrists and asked to cuff me like the others and charge me.
He asked for my season ticket and said I would not need it again. I told him to take my details from it and return it to me as I was going to Goodison on Saturday. At this point the senior officer talked to me very calmly and politely, again during my explanation The Overzealous One interrupted to claim that he had only used his truncheon once. I informed the senior officer that I was not going to speak in the presence of The Overzealous One.
I explained in private my view of events to the senior officer and we chatted for a while about football and his extensive experiences of policing football.
Following this pleasant interlude The Overzealous One returned to tell me that I was a lucky boy and that I was not to be charged, to which I suggested that I was willing to go to court to clear my name of any allegations. I was then escorted from the premises with a short delay while the police cleared the area as the Everton fans had been attacked near their coaches — not my words, those of the police!
I rang Les met up with her and we made our way home.
Looking back after a few days reflection, the incident on Saturday reminds me of detailed accounts of the history of the Roman Empire and their lust for violence and bloodshed in an amphitheatre.
This was at Arsenal FC, a club I have admired from afar since childhood. Not one of those London clubs where you might expect this.
The stewards working the area between the two sets of supporters were left with an impossible task. They got no help from other stewards and police upstairs. They saw what was happening and apologised. Then when it got uglier the police moved in to set about a small group of young away fans. The stewards were as shocked as us!
One steward saw the distress Les and I were in and did his utmost to correct what he saw as an injustice. Thank you again mate you were a star on a day when very few amongst the 60,000 plus seemed to care!
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