Good evening Villa fans, football fans. What a fantastic occasion. That is what the FA Cup is all about. A contest between two well-matched teams, a near full house with electric atmosphere, huge effort displayed by the players. It was my first visit to Villa Park in months (sorry, London life and all) and overall I absolutely loved it.
So it is incredibly sad that I feel the need to overlook a hard earned win to discuss the behaviour of the fans.
One Moment: The British Media turn on Villa fans
I was at the game, 2 blocks away from the West Brom fans. Quite frankly I'm livid right now. I'm not blind to some trouble that needs to be firmly addressed but the sensationalist headlines and outlandish statements being thrown about by prominent journalists simply aren't fair reflection of what happened.
The idiots that ran on the pitch before full time
The first couple of times were overexcitement when we scored the goals. There were simply not enough stewards or police to cover the lower Holte. They celebrated with the players and left relatively quickly.
In the 90th minute they may have mistaken the ref blowing for a throw in, but probably overexcitement got the better of them. A chorus of boos and "Get off, get off, get off the f****** pitch" greeted them from the rest of the stadium. As stupid as they might have been, they were eventually shepherded off without anyone getting hurt.
The final whistle blew. Everyone in the lower tiers flooded onto the pitch. The absolute vast majority of those jumped around, sang, waved flags.
Some went to the Villa players to congratulate them. This was reckless, they should have recognized that this makes the players uneasy, but I wouldn't have said their safety was in question given the situation.
Some went over to taunt the West Brom fans, which is pretty much to be expected, but the police barrier there was strong and nobody crossed it. Again, antagonising is not something I condone, but it stopped short of real danger.
A few morons confronted the West Brom players and staff. These fans absolutely and clearly crossed the line. This is blatantly not acceptable and they deserve to be identified and have the book thrown at them. Hard. Nobody should have to feel physically threatened for doing their job and I'm pleased that Villa issued this statement in apology.
Fans throwing seats
Fans in the top tier of the north stand ripped up parts of seats and threw them at the fans in the tier below. I didn't see this happen at the time but I am led to believe this was West Brom fans throwing down on Villa fans. This is deplorable, incredibly dangerous behaviour and anyone caught doing it should face criminal charges and stadium bans. Again - this was a very small minority and has been widely condemned by the West Brom fans. It has been referenced though not so much apologised for in this statement from West Brom. Incidentally this actually contributed to Villa fans in the lower North stand spilling forwards and on to the pitch.
Evening kick off for a derby - massive mistake by the broadcast schedulers
Fan trouble was inevitable. The insane 5:30 kick off time had allowed time for several hours of drinking before the game. Seriously, well done BBC. How did you not see it coming? Or is this media frenzy exactly what you hoped for?
Given the situation, there were nowhere near enough police and stewards. Not even close. There were enough to stop the West Brom fans entering the field, but three quarters of the stands were completely unguarded.
Villa fan mentality
By the end of the game Villa fans had seen a team that battled and worked really hard to win, to a man. Not a great performance but certainly a mammoth effort to be proud of. They'd seen their team beat their local rivals twice in a week - in two massively important games. They had been part of a special atmosphere, a huge crowd unified and completely behind the club for the first time in several years. Their team were on their way to Wembley - and totally deserved it - for the first time since Martin O'Neill, under a new passionate manager who has instilled belief and hope.
It doesn't in any way excuse violent behaviour, but it partly explains why the celebrations might have got a little out of control.
Perspective: Who has lost it?
In short, everyone. I find myself apopleptic with rage at the rhetoric being used. I'll just mention a few.
Patrick Barclay on Sunday Supplement comparing yesterday to Hillsborough. An absolutely disgraceful comparison. Be ashamed of yourself Patrick.
Phil McNulty, getting completely carried away. "It was an atmosphere heavy with threat". No, Phil, it was an incredible atmosphere with a handful of drunken idiots that did their best to ruin it.
Match of the Day have certainly changed their tune in the space of four months:
What can be done better in future?
- A lot more Police and Stewards. There were nowhere near enough.
- Early kick off. If this had been United against Liverpool, Spurs-Arsenal, there is no way in hell they'd let it be a late kick off. Why us? Play derby games early. You know this. So do it. Accept that you helped create a situation that was difficult to control.
- Permanently ban anyone that overstepped the mark from excitement to endangering safety.
- Stop the game and clearly threaten cancellation if early pitch invasions happen.
To the minority of Villa and Baggies fans causing real danger: never come back, you deserve to be vilified and locked up.
Congratulations to the other 35,000+ fans now universally despised for passionately but fairly celebrating a huge victory. Do not let yourselves feel persecuted for supporting your team.
To the reporters equating celebrating on the pitch post-game to tragic events from another era. Take a look at yourself. That is unfair, inaccurate, ridiculous and counter-productive. We all want to improve safety and behaviour but you are not helping here.
To the Villa team and staff: congratulations, we're all hugely proud of what you have pulled off this week. I hope you realise the significance of this swing in fan mentality. We're all behind you. Que Sera, Sera... :)