Islington was invaded yesterday by fans of FC Cologne, intent on going to the match at the Emirates whether they had tickets in advance or not.
It’s rumoured 20,000 Cologne fans travelled for only 3000 away tickets. And they seemed to have brought a generous number of samples of Cologne’s extensive brewing industry with them.
It’s a long time since we’ve had this kind of challenge at a match and there were some real problems for the borough as a result. I note both clubs have now been charged by UEFA in relation to the match.
I should say that, although they were ‘three sheets to the wind’, the vast majority of Cologne fans were good humoured and just interested in enjoying themselves. As I walked around the area last night I got into a few friendly chats with Cologne fans revelling in their club’s first European match in 25 years.
But there was some behaviour by ‘fans’ that was utterly unacceptable. Residents had gardens urinated in, a few were insulted and harassed, there was some violence around the stadium and the Highbury/ Holloway area looked a state. Some residents have called it “chaos”; and with good reason.
I’m very grateful indeed to all of the Council staff who worked so hard to clean the borough up last night and this morning. The fact that Highbury Fields was clear by 9am this morning was a great piece of work.
I’m also very grateful to the Police and Arsenal staff working around the stadium who did, in my view, an exceptional job in very difficult circumstances. The fact that the match passed off without a serious incident is a tribute to the Match Commander and his team.
However, Islington Council did not receive notification of the number of away fans travelling or the potential scale of the problems they might cause. There is an important question to be asked about why the central Met Police team whose job it is to gather intelligence on travelling football fans either didn’t spot this match as high risk or didn’t pass this information on.
We have experience in Islington of dealing with major football matches. There were similar issues when Dortmund played Arsenal a few years ago, but these were flagged in advanced and an intensive Policing operation was put in place. This doesn’t seem to have been the case last night.
The Council will convene the interested parties to learn lessons and push the Met to ensure intelligence on travelling European fans is gathered and acted on.
Arsenal are fundamental part of Islington. We are very proud to have one of the country’s best football clubs in our borough. But we will keep working to ensure that residents and fans are kep safe. As a boy, I witnessed a football disaster at Hillsborough and will never compromise on the safety of those attending football matches.