The matchday experience was always going to be like no other. Hillsborough is a ground I have always wanted to go to, and one to scratch off my little chart that has all the grounds of the 92 on it. I have been away with Wednesday before; I had tickets when they played Scunthorpe back in early 2010, They have some fervent, committed fans and that trip to Scunthorpe was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I thought because of that, the police might have their work cut out.
It seems some made decisions that reflected very badly on the local constabulary yesterday, and whilst I can’t begin to comment on things I didn’t see, I can discuss some things I did see. To be clear, one or two incidents I witnessed yesterday I will not be writing about in here, but I will discuss them where appropriate with people because they were distasteful, offensive and for some, upsetting. Some things are best not mentioned on the site.
Me and my mate, Dave, got the train from Nottingham after watching the Reytons the night before, so we didn’t see the problems leaving Lincoln, but it does seem as though Northern Trains were woefully unprepared for the influx of fans. There’s no excuse for that, they’ll surely know how many tickets have been sold? I can’t get my head around a company selling (for instance), 500 tickets for a train, then putting on carriages that can carry fewer than half that number. Even from Nottingham, the train had loads of people standing up and it baffles me. Tickets can be sold on the day too, surely it is basic customer service to ensure that there is enough room for everyone? Poor business in my eyes, but what do I know, I don’t run a train company. Rest assured, if I did, you wouldn’t have booked a train at 10.30 and been left standing because there wasn’t enough room, just like I wouldn’t promise my boss five articles a day, do two and just charge for five anyway. Same thing, under providing and overselling.
We found the experience fine at the station, obviously the police were not expecting many Lincoln fans on the 10.15 from Nottingham. We had a drink in the Globe whilst I tried to wake up from my ruined night’s sleep (Dave snores and we shared a room). We then headed into town where we got the first taste that everything was not quite well.
We heard a group of supporters coming through the town centre, singing loudly, which isn’t a problem. I have done it before, singing Imps’ songs in St Ives at 11 in the morning, it’s part of the experience. There is no disgrace in that, nor (in my opinion) drinking and have a good time. Hell, if some of those fans like a bit of Colombia’s finest with their football I won’t even criticise that; it’s their life, their choice. If they get caught, then accept the consequences, but having a good time is not illegal (well, class A drugs are, but you know what I mean). When I was young I had a mantra; I’d have a good time and do whatever I wanted, as long as my actions didn’t directly affect other people. Wanna waste a day’s wages on a sore nose on a Sunday? Be my guest. Wanna do it and then throw glasses on a street, frighten people and even end up punching someone? Get in the bin. Or on the train.
The problem is the fans that were put on the train were not all ‘weekend offenders’, they were not all fighting or being anti-social. The lads I saw signing in town, the whole group were not a problem group, or at least I didn’t think they were. As we walked further into town, people were out of shops talking about what they’d seen. One girl said how ‘young nipper were fighting wi’ copper’ as the group went past; that’s secondhand information. What is not is the pub we went past which I suspect some of you were in. Outside, a carpet of glass was being swept up from what seems like a pretty unpleasant experience for some. Again, I didn’t see it, only the aftermath, but as we went past people tried to get in. ‘We’re not letting anyone else in just yet’, said the troubled-looking staff member. ‘We’re waiting for it to die down a bit’. That suggests disorder, of some sort, had taken place.
Later, once we’d met a few mates, we were looking to get a tram to the ground, and as we came up towards the main tramline, a group of lads about sixty strong crossed the top of the road. Instantly, the mood changed as we got eyed up, and a police officer immediately stopped us. Two of our group of five had colours on, and maybe that prompted looks. Either way, we were told to stay put until the tram had gone. We did, for about ten minutes, and saw the whole group shoved onto a tram that was already full. The police then beckoned us forward, thanked us for our cooperation and confirmed the lads on the tram were some of the Sheff Weds troublemakers. We clearly were not, and I felt we were dealt with well. Maybe, those on the tram, wouldn’t have felt the same.
We did try to get on the next tram, but there was no chance, it was packed and people were just pushing on. I’ve since heard of incidents on the trams, but again as I didn’t see those, I can’t comment. We got a taxi to the ground, which seemed a long walk from the centre! We found out how long on the way back; we didn’t even feel a tram was worth risking, so we were just on our toes all the way back to the car. We didn’t see trouble, we didn’t experience any moments where we didn’t feel safe and we didn’t see anything you wouldn’t expect at an away game.
There are a few other things I witnessed that were not helpful, but on the whole, it wasn’t entirely pleasant. I feel desperately sad for friends who were turned away, herded onto a train and sent home, but I would say this; sing Lincoln City songs and there’s no justification for you being sent home. Sing songs with deeply offensive words on a Saturday afternoon in a town centre, and you’re asking for trouble. You might not think a song about religion, or paedophiles is offensive, but in this day and age, you’re just not going to get away with it.
Also, if your away day is all about being intimidating, breaking glasses and frightening innocent people going about their business, you’re doing it wrong. That’s not opinion either, that is fact.
What is a real shame is much of the discussion after the game is about behaviour, pure and simple. Even more upsetting is that in all of these incidents, there is no blame on Sheffield Wednesday supporters at all. Even the group we saw, who might have been bad buggers, or might not, wasn’t an actual incident. All of the stories I’m hearing are about Lincoln City fans, and that’s just not fair on the 99% of honest fans who want to sit or stand, drink and sing or watch and observe. It’s not fair on the club either, who will have to start paying money to have games policed. You’re not just affecting families in Sheffield; you’re clearly affecting other supporters, those sent home and those who sit in the stands in silence because if they speak up, they’re scared of getting shouted at or worse.
As for the person who threw a flare into a group of his own supporters, hitting one on the head, you’re a fucking dickhead.