As I walked away from St Andrew’s after the game on Saturday, the sound of police dogs barking triggered a memory from May 1982. I remembered walking away from Highfield Road after Birmingham had escaped relegation by winning 0-1 against Coventry. On both occasions the dogs were in police cars, not being used but there just in case.
In 1982 I’d seen behaviour that had explained the presence of the dogs; fans invading the pitch and a man ripping a wooden slat off the back of a seat and carrying it away as a weapon. That was the only football game I went to in the 1980’s. My American husband and I lived abroad but were visiting my mother. I’d decided I could give him some exposure to British cultures by visiting Coventry Cathedral in the morning and going to the game in the afternoon. I got more than I had bargained for and was shaken by the behaviour of some of the fans and the great number of police who herded them back to the railway station. I decided that I didn’t want to go to any more football games. I did start going again, in 1991, and it felt better then. I saw very little trouble and realised that the overwhelming majority of football fans are not hooligans.
Apart from the flare in the Wolves end, I didn’t see any fans behaving badly on Saturday. And I don’t know if the massive police presence prevented incidents occurring. But it felt confrontational and I found that unsettling. Problems at football matches reflect the problems in our society. In the 1980’s the police fought with striking miners, with pickets at Orgreave and covered up their own incompetence by blaming the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. I had hoped that we had seen the end of that style of policing. Communication is so much better than confrontation. But the EU referendum has revealed deep divisions in this country and I fear that the problems in our society may spill over into football. I hope not.
Since I hate to write a totally negative piece, I’d like to finish by saying how good it felt to see Blues get a goal. I’d have been happy with any sort of goal but Che Adam’s first goal for Blues was a good one. I hope it’s the first of many.