“At the end of the day, I don’t get paid enough to get hurt,” says a security guard on the door of a business a short distance from Wembley’s famous arch. He quit working in the stadium itself after the terrifying experience he had just under one year ago.
“People were punching, kicking, I just opened the door and got out of the way,” he said. “There’s no money they could offer to make me come back.”
As football has become more glamorous, expensive and family-friendly in recent years, serious crowd trouble was starting to feel like something from the game’s dark and distant past. That has all changed.
Tonight, England are playing Italy at Molineux Stadium with no spectators, apart from 3,000 children, as punishment for the lawless carnage at Wembley for the same fixture last year in the final of the European Championship, won by the Italians on penalties.
Many of those who were there repeat the same line: it was a miracle nobody died that Sunday. That was also the conclusion of Dame Louise Casey who published an independent review into the chaos at Wembley, commissioned by the Football Association which runs the stadium.
“The events of Sunday, 11 July, at Wembley Stadium were a ‘near miss’,” her report said. “I am clear that we were close to fatalities and/or life-changing injuries for some, potentially many, in attendance.”
FA CEO Mark Bullingham apologised for the “terrible experience” many fans suffered that day, accepting the findings of the Casey report, saying lessons must be learned to prevent a “perfect storm of lawlessness” happening again.
But although the authorities involved were different, and the fans who attended entirely blameless, the Champions League final in Paris two weeks ago saw similarly shocking scenes.
Before the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid, there were dangerous crushes outside the Stade de France with fans tear-gassed by local police. Crowds at the Europa League Final in Sevilla last month, which saw Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers, experienced a number of problems too.
Pitch invasions are a classic feature of the English football season’s finale, but on several occasions recently, players have been assaulted by fans, while drugs and pyrotechnics are cited by football safety experts as increasing the risk to fans attending matches.
One theme emerges in the wake of all these dangerous incidents as football emerges blinking from the depths of the pandemic.
Many in football are seriously worried about the safety of future big events, which could mean things …….