Judging by the considerable hike in both steward and police presence at St. Andrews (over 500 West Midlands officers were drafted in for the occasion), it’s pretty clear that the relevant authorities were envisaging a bit of a feisty affair between second city rivals Birmingham and Aston Villa in the Carling Cup last night – although the ugly tension that swarmed after the final whistle could, in these supposedly enlightened times, hardly have been preempted.
During the game itself, the two sets of opposing supporters provided a magnificent bristling maelstrom of noise that seemed to marry perfectly with the exciting, fractious football on display.
However, the friction brimmed over as the game culminated when, having seen their side run out as dramatically late 2-1 winners, thousands of Birmingham fans stormed across the length of the pitch to goad the Villa fans who were located in the Gil Merrick Stand at the opposite end of the stadium.
A hail of saliva and make-shift missiles ensued, with a gaudy red flare sent spiralling from the pitch into the Villa section of the crowd and back over the police cordon again before plastic seats, uprooted from the terraces, were hurled back and forth between the two sets of irate supporters.
The fact that Sky Sports were forced to show the violence in replay after breaking for commercials after the game indicates the relative brevity of the trouble in the ground, but reports quickly filtered through of similar incidents taking place in the area surrounding the stadium – with five arrests made in conjunction with a fracas in a local pub, amongst various other acts of petty vandalism.
In the aftermath, West Midlands Police confirmed that 14 people (including four police officers) had been admitted to hospital for treatment to minor injuries, whilst two police dogs had also been injured after being struck by a couple of wayward missiles.
The FA, presumably with one eye on ‘damage limitation’ ahead of the World Cup voting in Zurich this afternoon, have since moved to condemn the ‘abhorrent’ scenes that ensued post-game – with a spokesman confirming that a hard-line probe into the violence will be carried out accordingly:
“We wholly condemn the actions of any individuals who have been involved in the scenes of disorder at St Andrew’s.
The FA abhors acts of violent behaviour and we urge the clubs and authorities to identify any individuals involved in disorder, and impose the stiffest available sanctions, including banning orders.
The FA will fully investigate the matter. The whole of English football has worked hard to eradicate scenes of disorder from our game, with Home Office figures this week showing a significant drop in arrests at the many thousands of football matches held every week, the majority of which still pass trouble free.”
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish also admitted that the incendiary actions of his side’s supporters had ‘soured’ the club’s hard-fought victory over their near neighbours, also branding the night’s developments as a ‘return to the dark ages’ of football hooliganism:
“That was horrible to see the punters running on the pitch – it’s from the dark ages. We don’t condone that at all.
I know we have not beaten Villa for a while, and the fans were treating it like a cup final. But when you see flares being thrown into the crowd, it’s not something you want to be associated with.
Fans shouldn’t come on to the pitch at any time; that’s the disappointing aspect, and that sours it a bit for me.”
Both clubs have also vowed to help weed out the minority of meat-heads who fueled the torrid post-match debacle, with Birmingham promising an ‘impartial investigation’ and Villa pledging their ‘full co-operation’ therein.
I’m sure it won’t have much of a bearing considering that all of the bribery and glad-handing is out of the way now but, with the World Cup 2018 voting set to get underway in a few hours time, let’s just hope that the only things that the tiny-minded pricks responsible for the escalating trouble at St. Andrews have actually managed to ruin was a few wing-mirrors and an undeniably cracking evening of derby-day football.