Wednesday, February 21, 2007

United edge out Lille as crowd disaster is narrowly averted...

A late second half goal by Ryan Giggs was enough to secure a hard fought win on French soil as United beat Lille 1-0 in the Champions League in Lens on Tuesday night. The only goal of the game came about when the Welshman took a free-kick quickly as the Lille players were still trying to get themselves organised, as they did so the ball flew into the keepers top left hand corner of the net leaving the stopper Tony Sylva grasping at thin air. The referee Eric Braamhaar quite rightly gave the goal, but the home players lost the plot and several started arguing with the officials, what happened next was simply outrageous. The Lille players decided they'd walk off the pitch, the French are of course famed for taking industrial action and withdrawing their labour, but it left many observers saying they'd never seen anything like this before. Quite.

On a night which had earlier looked to have all the hallmarks of another potential crowd disaster, the players waking off was the last thing the game needed. During the first half, the United fans who were behind the goal spilled out onto the pitch. Initially the ITV commentary team suggested 'it was just a few idiots running on to the pitch', the police response was to baton the fans, as if that wasn't bad enough, the cops then started lobbing tear gas into the crowd. In point of fact, the United supporters end of the ground looked to have too many fans in it and people were getting crushed, which is why some fans were trying to escape the crush.

In the wake of this sorry episode many questions will be raised about the policing and stewarding. For starters, did the police know fans were getting crushed? If they did know, then why did they start tear gassing supporters? IF they didn't know about the crush, then why didn't they know? It seems on both accounts the police and the Lille match stewards both look guilty as hell. Following the disasters of Hillsborough and Heysel, we the fans were led to believe that security and the fans safety was of paramount concern, however, what happened in France last night serves to warn us that clearly some clubs like Lille and in particular the French police haven't taken on board those issues as what happened was totally unacceptable.

After the game Alex Ferguson blamed the Lille manager for orchestrating the player walk-off, stating that they are a 'disgrace' and the club should be chucked out of the competition. You can understand Fergie, because following the brief walk-off, the home fans started pelting the United stars with missiles as predictably the atmosphere turned ugly. Here again, questions need to be asked about the levels of security inside the stadium, because we've not seen scenes like that in England for a very long time, any fans taking such action would be ejected and more than likely banned for life. Are French football fans allowed to do what they like inside the stadium? Are the French police above the law? On the evidence of last night and other games involving French clubs this season, it seems that maybe so.

In their defence no doubt Lille and the home supporters were still aggrieved for referee Eric Braamhaar ruling out a second half headed goal for a push on Vidic, but the TV replays clearly showed that there was contact, and in any case, that is no excuse for the players walking off like a bunch of big babies.

Lille should be booted out of the Champions League and the French police should be sued for their gross incompetence.

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