LONDON – The English Football Association and London police launched investigations after Millwall fans fought among themselves during an FA Cup semifinal loss to Premier League side Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium.
The disorder, which revived memories of Millwall’s struggle with hooliganism in the 1970s and 80s, overshadowed Wigan reaching the cup final for the first time in its 81-year history by sweeping to a 2-0 victory.
Fans of the second-tier London club make light of their unruly reputation with a chant that was heard at the stadium before the outbreak of disorder: ”No one likes us and we don’t care.”
”We are continuing to progress as a club, that’s our greatest challenge,” Millwall manager Kenny Jackett said. ”We’ve worked very hard to do everything we possibly can to try to be trouble-free … if crowd trouble is going to be continuously brought up with Millwall that will hold us back.”
Police and stewards appeared to be slow to react to the disorder that broke out before halftime but worsened throughout the second half as groups of Millwall supporters brawled with themselves and security officials.
“Ten people have been arrested following sporadic disorder among fans in the Millwall supporters’ area at Wembley Stadium,” the Metropolitan police said in a statement.
In pictures broadcast around the world, one female Wigan fan was seen to be in tears as bloodied Millwall supporters traded punches in scenes reminiscent of a time when hooliganism cast a shadow over English football.
”We will look to ensure those involved are identified and we would call for criminal charges and a football banning order to be brought against them,” FA general secretary Alex Horne said. ”The FA deplore the scenes which have taken place, which are unacceptable.”
Dave Whelan, the chairman of Premier League struggler Wigan, fears the image of English football has been damaged.
”I can’t understand why the Millwall fans would fight each other,” he said. ”I understand if they want to fall out with the visiting team, but why would they fall out amongst themselves? It just gives football a very, very poor reputation.”
Millwall, owned by American businessman John Berylson, pledged to take robust action against the brawling fans.
”Anyone associated with our club found guilty of violent behavior will be banned indefinitely from Millwall matches in addition to any punishment they receive from the authorities,” Millwall chief executive Andy Ambler said.
For Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, the ugly scenes left a ”bad taste” after his team’s first FA Cup semifinal.
On the pitch, Shaun Maloney volleyed Wigan in front in the 25th minute with a crisp finish after evading his marker to dart into the penalty area and meet Arouna Kone‘s cross. Rather than building on its position of strength, Wigan allowed the London side to gradually assert itself after the break.
But Wigan doubled its lead in the 78th after a slick move that saw Jordi Gomez pass through a gap in the defense and Callum McManaman run onto the ball before rounding goalkeeper David Forde and slotting into the net.
Wigan is on course to become the second history-maker this season at Wembley. Swansea won its first major trophy in the League Cup final in February. Wigan will take another break from its struggle for Premier League survival on May 11 to face Manchester City or Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
Saturday’s trip to Wembley was far happier for Whelan than in 1960 when his football career ended in the FA Cup final after breaking his leg playing for Blackburn.
”He feels he has some unfinished business … that will add some emotion,” Martinez said. ”I hope that the FA will allow him to lead the team out in the final because that will be a really fitting moment for what he has done for football.”
Editor’s note: Watch Millwall fans battle police in the video below.