Back to Boleyn. Police and the Fans

After my post on West Ham’s final game at Upton Park a couple of weeks ago (https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/goodbye-to-boleyn/), I promised to ‘lay off’ football for a while. But having just come across this alternative account of the ‘riot’ before that match, by – it’s true – an SWP member (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Smith_(activist)), I think I need to correct some of the impressions that may have been left by that post. As I made clear there, Ben and I didn’t witness the assault on the Manchester United bus personally, as Martin Smith did, but his account fully accords with my impression of the crowd generally. It is also consistent with my knowledge, as a historian, of the relations between police, as representatives of ‘authority’, and large working-class crowds, however peaceful, over the past 200 years; way back to ‘Peterloo’ at the latest (though there the villains were the ‘yeomanry’), and through to Orgreave. The article is headed ‘West Ham hooligans or police liars?’

West Ham United FC played its final game at the Boleyn on Tuesday night (10 May). It was supposed to be a massive party, a celebration of 112 years and 2,398 games at the ground. But before the first ball was kicked a mini riot took place.

The police and the media blamed West Ham supporters. The next morning I was shocked to see several of my friends echoing the media and the polices version of events. The report below is the piece I wrote on my Facebook the next day.

I haven’t changed it in any way (although I’ve added a few photographs), but I thought I’d put it up here so others can at least see there is an alternative explanation.

I think it was George Orwell who said, “When I see a worker and a policeman fighting, I instinctively know what side I’m on.”

That’s always been my guiding principle. So I was a bit shocked to get a raft of messages calling West Ham fans, “thugs” , “hooligans” and worse. Their crime, the media accused them of attacking the Man U team bus.

I’m the first to admit that some of our supporters are no shrinking violets, but before you condemn them, there is a different view of the events, one which I share, because I was there.

Thousands of supporters gathered from lunchtime outside the Boleyn Pub on the corner of the Barking Rd and Green Street. The mood was good natured and just like a party. But as many of us know the police hate large ‘unofficial’ gatherings of working class people.

Without warning mounted police charged into the crowd, no warning but violent intent to clear the crowd. Behind them two police riot vans forced their way through the crowd followed by the Man U coach.

We now know that the Man U coach was late, so instead of finding a new route or slowly clearing the road, the police just bludgeon led their way through the crowd.

Some people did throw stuff at the Man U coach and the police – more in anger and frustration with how they were treated.

But worse was to come. They drove their riot vans and Man U coach up Green Street into thousands of people walking to the ground. On match days the road and the pavements are full of people. The police then stopped their vans and tried to get the coach into the car park. Because they are thick, or because they don’t know the ground, they didn’t realise the coach has to reverse into the car park. It got stuck.

Meanwhile thousands of fans were getting crushed. We were caught between the police vans and lines of police blocking the road at one end and thousands of people making their way down the road from the other way.

We had to carry a young lad to safety, who was suffering from a panic attack. Some people were crying and a guy in a wheelchair was surrounded by friends in a circle trying to protect him.

Hillsborough was at the front of everyone’s minds and it was shouted at the police as they pushed the crowd.

The police have spent the last 24 hours trying to blame West Ham fans for their mess and a mess that could have had disastrous consequences.

So what was a brilliant evening, has been marred by police incompetence and prejudice, call it what you like. They will post a few mug shots of young and not so young fans in the media, drag a few more through the courts and call them ‘scum’. Stupid yes, but they were not to blame for yesterday.

I’ve quoted this in full, but it’s still worth referring to the original: http://www.dreamdeferred.org.uk/2016/05/west-ham-hooligans-or-police-liars/, for the pictures of the crowd and of police posted there, and for the corroborative comments btl.

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