It was 4.45p.m. on a Saturday. We would hear the final roar even though we were about a kilometre from the ground and then we would wait. By 6p.m. most would have gone, just a few stragglers left. Litter would adorn Goldsmith avenue, people would move their cars back to outside their houses, my father would finally go outside to the local newsagents to buy the evening paper.
It was worse for some teams, Millwall in particular I remember; luckily Southampton, the neighbouring town, at the time were in a different league. Slowly our local train station, Fratton, became something resembling Colditz and wire mesh and steel fences were erected; they are still there.
The image would be of a father taking his young son to the game to watch is favourite players. My father never took me, although only because I never expressed an interest and he never went himself. Yet I probably played football every day and I would watch it on the television, avidly if it was Stoke or England because my favourite player, Gordon Banks, would be playing. But if I went to see sport live, I would go and watch Hampshire play cricket.
Whether at Portsmouth, or Southampton, or Bournemouth, it was the same. I don't remember seeing a policemen in all the times I went, you could sit where you like, there was no segregation of supporters, no shouting of obscenities, no racism that I can recall, (Hampshire at the time had Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Gordon Greenidge playing, all from the West Indies, and Gordon Greenidge opened the batting with Barry Richards, a South African). In fact it would appear that football was the only sport which seemed to inflame the supporters to such a degree that violence at the end of the Portsmouth game was just taken for granted.
You see it on the forums; people who can have civilised discussions about almost any subject immediately resort to abuse when football is mentioned, as it often is. City are shit, writes one poster, for no other reason than they beat his team to the Premier League title. Arsenal, Chelsea, even teams in the lower leagues seem to have supporters that tap into their Neanderthal past. The players are no better of course - the recent John Terry racism court case highlighted the sort of regular abuse that goes on in a game of football. Motherfucker, cunt, regular expletives at the limit of vocabulary are regularly hurled around the pitch. And the supporters join in, chanting jibes at rival supporters celebrating such events as the Munich air disaster or Hillsborough.
No attempt has been made to solve this problem. All seater stadiums were introduced although it took the deaths of nearly a hundred supporters to bring that in, so this meant that real fights had to be staged outside. And they were. Alcohol was banned which just went to prove that you didn't have to be drunk to stab a rival supporter. But these measures, and others, have improved things and as they always said, the hooligans are just a small minority. A small minority apparently condoned by the majority for tut-tutting at them has not solved the problem. Staying away would solve the problem. Football would die, and the hooligans would die with them, having to resort to occasional rioting for a hobby.
But those improvements didn't seem to matter as we cowered in our houses waiting for them to finish vandalising our town before vandalising the trains on their way back to whatever pit they came out of. What father would subject his son to that. I read in the wake of the new Hillsborough report about a mother worried sick whether her two teenage daughters had survived or not. Whilst I can understand her distress, what mother would allow two teenage daughters to attend any football match by themselves, or to go at all.
When I visited Cincinnati I accidentally walked into the gate of their baseball stadium. A huge security guard immediately towered above me. I apologised and said I just wanted to see the stadium so he escorted me in. It was so far removed from Fratton Park, our local football ground, I was astounded. Everything was spotless and the cleanliness of it, the coloured seats, the bright colours, all seemed somehow to give it a non threatening feel, unlike Fratton Park which skulks by the side of a railway siding, an industrial park and rows of terraced houses. I am sure there is violence at baseball games too, and probably at cricket matches, (the Barmy army seemed to have been transported from some football supporters club), but the general feel of the crowd is completely different, non-threatening.
The report on the Hillsborough disaster is a reminder of how things were. It rightly highlights the corruption of the police and many others - judges and politicians - that covered up their ineptitude in handling these crowds. But it does not provide social context. Those of us hiding in our houses until the rival supporters had finished their vandalising of our neighbourhood can do that.
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