Thursday, 27 August 2009

To the safety of the town

It's not good to get home, turn on the late night news, and find yourself thinking 'Oh - so that's why there were all those police officers at the station.' Still less so when the news is about rival football fans in a street-battle that sent several people to hospital.

It's particularly startling to me because West Ham fans are the people who, over the years, have convinced me that living next to a football club isn't such a bad thing.

I used to live right down the road from another football club - a smaller one, lower down the leagues, and I learned pretty quick to plan my weekends around their games so I wasn't sharing a tube station with fans on their way to matches if I could avoid it.

The experience almost put me off moving into a house so close to a much larger club, but I went back to view it a second time on a match day, and was pleasantly surprised. The tube was busy, sure, and a bit loud, but it wasn't threatening. There were whole families wearing team colours, and a big burly guy with a can of beer in his hands leapt to his feet to offer his seat as soon as an elderly lady got on at the next station. Very different from my experiences before. My neighbour goes to matches with his kids - and his youngest girl was only about 6 when I moved in next door.

I'm not a football fan, but I've recommended Upton Park to friends as a place to see a match in the past, and I've never felt uncomfortable when I'm sharing my streets and my tube carriage with people on their way too or from a match.

But the news on Tuesday told a far different story; one that saddens and worries me.

Crowds are always volatile things, and it's always good to be aware of how quickly the mood can change. Maybe it's just a few bad apples. Maybe it was just this match, with it's historical rivalry.

I really do hope that it was a one-off, an aberration, and that my neighbours, and the other fans and families like them will make it clear to the guys who were out for a fight that they're not welcome.

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