LONDON (Reuters) – Hooliganism is not a problem in English football, according to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, despite a week in which disturbances at West Ham United’s League Cup tie against Chelsea tarnished the game’s glossy image.
West Ham are threatening to ban 200 fans after studying video of the ugly scenes which marred their victory at their new London Stadium home on Wednesday, a reminder of the 1970s and 1980s, when violence was commonplace in British football.
Seats and coins were thrown and stewards struggled to keep hundreds of rival fans apart in the closing stages of a tie that was broadcast live around the world.
“I don’t believe there is a hooligan problem in England. You cannot say 200 people is a general problem in the country,” Wenger told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
“I’m surprised even more than being disappointed. West Ham is usually a very strong fan base, very motivated. In England we are not used to facing these problems any more.”
Wenger even advocates a return to safe standing areas in Premier League stadiums after they were phased out in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, when 96 fans died at an FA Cup tie in 1989.
“I am in favour of the resurgence of standing behind the goals and (Wednesday’s scenes) is not a good advert to come back to standing,” he said. “Hopefully West Ham will get rid of the problem very quickly.”
West Ham’s move out of their Upton Park ground to the London 2012 Olympic Stadium has been plagued by problems, with crowd trouble at most of their home games so far.
Stewarding, the design of the stadium and a lack of a strong police presence have all been blamed and the club has already banned 23 supporters.
Despite the problems on Wednesday which eventually saw riot police move in to quell the trouble, the operation involving 900 stewards was deemed effective.
“The response of our safety and security teams was measured, fast and effective and we commend the stewarding,” a spokesman for London Stadium partners West Ham, E20 Stadium LLP and London Stadium 185, said.
“It must be stressed that the vast majority of West Ham and visiting supporters behaved impeccably.”
One MP has called for West Ham to play games behind closed doors should the club fail to come up with an effective plan to eradicate the incidents.
Wenger, whose Arsenal side visit West Ham in December, said that would be the wrong reaction.
“There is nothing more dire than that. I prefer not to play than to play games behind closed doors,” he said.
The Football Supporters Federation (FSF) — a voice for all fans — said it has been “monitoring” the situation at the London Stadium all season and had observers in the ground on Wednesday.
“Together with our West Ham United and Chelsea members, and affiliated groups, we are now seeking to get constructive feedback of supporters’ experiences,” a statement said.
“We hope to work with the club and relevant authorities to provide meaningful input into any post-match debriefs.
“The FSF reaffirms our commitment to the eradication of violence from football and would never condone behaviour such as that witnessed among a small minority of fans.”
The FSF stressed that football-related arrests fell to a record low in the 2014-15 — 4.9 arrests per 100,000 fans.
“People are 11 times as likely to be arrested at Glastonbury (music festival), as at football,” it said when the figures were released.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, Editing by Simon Cambers)