Everyone who was there will have a different enduring image of the chaos that unfolded at Wembley last night. For me it was not the violence, the rushing of gates or the futility of outnumbered stewards attempting to keep hundreds of ticketless fans at bay.
Nor was it the sight of several young men bounding through a wheelchair section in the minutes before kick off or the pitch invader late in normal time lasting more than a minute evading and dancing his way past four men in orange bibs.
Instead it was the sight of a young boy seeking security to the right of the press box early in the second half, a look of terror on his face as his father tried to keep him calm.
A few minutes earlier a man in his late 20s with an Algeria flag wrapped around his chest had jumped over the metal barrier which they were now resting on, waltzing through the media tribune unaccosted before then doubling back and wandering away into the unruly masses.
This was the complete opposite of that heartwarming clip from the semi-final win that showed a girl receiving Mason Mount’s kit and turning to her dad with a look of pure joy and innocence on her face. To see so many children have the excitement and innocence drained last night from them was a bleak sight.
It was always going to be a night in which the emotional impact became too much for some but the occasion, the emergence from 16 months of pandemic restrictions, is not an excuse for abhorrent behaviour.
Arriving at the stadium four hours before kick off it was already clear that the atmosphere, so positive and overwhelmingly friendly up to this point in the tournament, was turning dark.
Instead of spraying beer, unopened cans and bottles were being thrown into crowds. One man near the corner towards Wembley Arena was receiving medical attention after being struck by a missile.
There were two pressure points in terms of forced entries, both entrances just off Wembley Way attacked a little after 6pm. You will have all seen the videos by now – of people breaking through a gate and people already inside trying to force them out, of people fighting over seats inside.
Throughout the game the gangways in the north side of the stadium were jammed with bodies that should not have been there. Several Italians ended up standing on an overcrowded platform intended for wheelchair users because their seats had been occupied. They were eventually relocated elsewhere.
Even deep in extra time there were arguments over people in seats meant for others, the stewards still powerless to do anything and the only police officers in sight protecting the perimeter of the pitch because, well, above all the show must go on.
Outside the Met’s presence appeared greater but still insufficient as they sought to stop any other intruders. Leaving a little after midnight there was a team of dogs with their handlers departing, and rows of officers in riot gear standing amid the broken glass, empty cans and supermarket bags for life as a couple of thousand fans continued to loiter, predominantly in a daze.
There are a host of questions for the local organising committee, the police and security staff to answer. Had they not foreseen this happening? Why were there so few stewards to deal with the mayhem? Why was there not a wider perimeter placed around Wembley to keep ticketless fans further away? Why did the response seem reactive rather than proactive?
Communication, too, was an issue. A stadium spokesperson initially said that no supporter had successfully breached security but that was evidently false as dozens could be seen forcing their way through the turnstiles with ticket holders.
The only seats that appeared empty come kick off appeared to be in the corporate areas and looking at how overcrowded some sections of the stadium was it does not feel a stretch to say it was actually at full 90,000 capacity.
It was a stark lesson in how not to control a crowd but ultimately the blame must rest with the thugs who turned up intent on bullying their way in. That it did not amount to something more serious was a relief because there were moments in the lead up to kick off where it felt like more widespread disorder was on the way.
“These people are an embarrassment to the England team and to all of the true fans who wanted to enjoy one of the most important matches in our history,” an FA spokesperson said afterwards. “We will work with the relevant authorities to take action against anyone who is identified to have illegally forced their way into the stadium.”
The FA and the government are behind an attempt to bring the 2030 World Cup here and it is worth pondering what FIFA president Gianni Infantino made of it all in the posh seats, removed from the pandemonium but still close enough to realise something out of the ordinary was occurring.
This was meant to be a night of celebration and while the result went against England in the cruellest manner the game itself was overshadowed by those who must face strong recriminations.
Source by Football London