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Britain's key cup final marred by violent soccer brawl

By Alexander MacLeodSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 13, 1980



London

The light and the dark sides of Britain's most popular sport -- association football (soccer) -- were exposed with unusual clarity May 11, when the top teams of England and Scotland clashed in annual cup finals north and south of the border.

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The England final, an all- London affair, produced a stirring game ending in victory for West Ham United, who returned to the East End of the British capital to celebrate in good-natured Cockney style. There were cheers from Bow to Bethnal Green.

In Scotland the aftermatch scene was downright ugly. Celtic beat their old rivals, the Rangers, 1-0 in a grim struggle, which was followed by widespread violence on the field and on the streets outside.

The West Ham (the Hammers) paraded through East End streets watched by a crowd of a quarter of a million delighted that Arsenal (the gunners) from North London had been defeated. But Glasgow's city fathers declared that the aftermath of the match at Hampden Park had destroyed 10 years of municipal image-building. More than 200 soccer fans were arrested after the match. Attendants took away truckloads of bottles and cans from a ground where alcohol is supposed to be forbidden. Police described what had happened as "mindless thuggery aggravated by drink."

Precisely why some big soccer matches are cheerful sporting occasions and others venues for punch-ups and bottle-throwing continues to puzzle the games organizers.

Police feared the England Cup Final would be violent with 100,000 fans crammed into Wembley Stadium, waving banners and cheering their teams on.

Rivalry between East and North London is intense, and here were the Hammers (a second-division team) confronting first-division Arsenal, a side not famous for an enlightened style of soccer. One commentator called the Gunners "assembly-line workers without faces."

But the match was comparatively clean, perhaps because it was played on neutral turf. Afterward the defeated tribes of North London withdrew in good order, reconciled to the East Enders' victory.

In Glasgow the final whistle was the signal for bottle- throwing fans to pour onto the field, followed by fisticuffs outside the stadium as over 500 police struggled to keep control. They succeeded only partly.

Soccer crowds in England and Scotland are partisan at the best of times, but police say trouble tends to erupt under two conditions:

* When matches receive the attention of small groups of youths who set out to create trouble by taunting the supporters of other teams -- especially on one team's home turf. Sometimes the provocation comes from spectators who really support neither team and deliberately try to set one group of fans against another.

* The second reason for violent behavior was exemplified by the debris left in the Hampden Park Stadium. Drink was smuggled in on a huge scale, despite police attempts to prevent infractions of the rules. The result was that fans, who might otherwise merely cheer their team on, lost control.

Police noted that chicken- wire barrier fences built some years ago to stop fans rushing onto the field proved useless.

The sad story in Glasgow did not diminish the delight of the London crowds. West Ham and Arsenal had each had to struggle toward the final.

For many weeks it had seemed that the redoubtable team from Liverpool would be one of the finalists, but the Liverpudlians were eliminated in the semifinal.

That left it all to London. The Hammers, despite their name, are renowned for open, constructive soccer, and adopted that style in their defeat of the dour Arsenal team.

Meanwhile in Scotland the police and soccer organizers are already preparing plans to try to ensure that this year's violence is not repeated at the next cup final. As a first step, Scottish office minister Malcolm Rifkind is strengthening the criminal justice bill to ban alcohol absolutely from soccer fields.