2009 Upton Park riot
The 2009 Upton Park riot occurred at and around West Ham United’s Upton Park ground before, during and after a Football League Cup second round match between West Ham and Millwall on 25 August 2009.
The match was won by the home side 3–1 after extra time, but the game was marred by pitch invasions and disorder in the streets outside the ground, where one Millwall supporter was stabbed. More than 20 other people were injured.
The disturbances were met with anger by the Football Association, the British government and the two clubs involved. The incident led to fears of a return of the hooliganism that had tarnished the reputation of English football in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. There were also concerns that it could negatively impact upon England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup.
Millwall and West Ham United have a long-standing rivalry that dates back to the clubs’ first meeting, a friendly on 23 September 1897. The rivalry stems from the two sides’ geographical proximity to one another – their current home grounds (The Den and the Boleyn Ground) are 6.8 miles (10.9 km) apart – and, over the years, there have been several instances of violence between some fans of the two clubs. However, these occurrences had subsided in recent years as the clubs have played in different divisions for much of their recent history. Prior to the match, there had been 96 encounters between Millwall and West Ham, of which Millwall had won 38, West Ham 32, and 26 were drawn. The previous tie was a league game played on 16 April 2005 at the Boleyn Ground which ended with a 1–1 draw.
Hooliganism was rife at most English football grounds in the 1970s and 1980s, and many clubs were forced into installing fencing around the perimeter of the pitch. Millwall’s hooligan firm, the Millwall Bushwackers was perceived as one of the most violent, so much so that a common weapon used in such occurrences became known as a Millwall brick. In March 1985, the Millwall Bushwackers were involved in a riot with Luton Town’s firm; of the 31 men arrested, many were found to be supporters of other London clubs such as West Ham and Chelsea.
West Ham United have also been in receipt of bad publicity for their Inter City Firm, which received international notoriety after the release of the 1989 film The Firm and the 2005 film Green Street.
The draw for the second round of the 2009–10 Football League Cup took place on 12 August 2009, and paired West Ham and Millwall together for their first ever League Cup meeting.
Reaction and aftermath
The violence was met by surprise and outrage from the footballing authorities and other bodies. The government’s sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe commented, “We have made great progress in tackling hooliganism in this country and will not return to the dark days of the 80s”. He called the incidents “a disgrace to football” and also said that any culprits should be banned from football for life. Justice secretary Jack Straw said that “strong measures” needed to be taken to prevent a repeat of the disorder. Home secretary Alan Johnson added, “Anyone who thinks thuggery has a place in modern-day football is living in the dark ages, and will bring only shame upon the teams they support.” The shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt commented that “Wider questions need to be answered as to how the situation was allowed to get out of hand in the first place”.
One West Ham fan was seen carrying a young child on their shoulders as they joined the pitch invasion. A youth worker called this “sickening… The message it is sending is very disturbing” and added that “Running onto the pitch with a young child on your shoulders is not an example to set to young people”. The Football Association said that the fan should receive a lifetime ban.
Harry Redknapp, a former West Ham manager, advised the football authorities never to allow West Ham United and Millwall to play each other in a Cup game again.
The Metropolitan Police Service said evidence suggested that the violence was an isolated incident and not a signal that the football violence seen in the 1980s was returning.
On 28 September 2009, both West Ham and Millwall were charged by the FA with offences related to the match. Both clubs were charged with failing to ensure that their fans refrained from violent, threatening, obscene and provocative behaviour, racist behaviour and throwing missiles, harmful or dangerous objects onto the pitch. West Ham were also charged with failing to ensure that their supporters did not enter the field of play.
In January 2010 West Ham were fined £115,000 after being found guilty of violent, threatening, obscene and provocative behaviour and of failing to prevent their fans entering the field of play. Millwall were cleared of all charges.
In response to the violence and public order offences the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Balconi to investigate the disorder surrounding the game. Eighty people suspected of violence before and after the match were arrested. As a result Inner London Crown Court convicted several West Ham fans of violent disorder, passing prison sentences, including one of 20 months, along with many football banning orders – barring individuals from all football grounds – being imposed. West Ham banned at least 54 people for life from Upton Park including 11 season ticket holders.