We must, and can, stop football hooliganism: Canon F. Omondi.

Gor Mahia fans

“Vultures gather where there are corpses”, so hooliganism has always trailed successful soccer franchises. That some Gor Mahia football fans are hooligans is not news! That they caused chaos in Machakos was expected!

The recent problems with violence in stadiums during and after matches are neither new nor unique to us. Nor will the problem disappear on its own. We have failed to manage what are well-known and well-documented problems. Recent approaches to taming this growing menace have been laughable. It seems as if teams now not only want to win on the pitch. They want to show they are supported by the greatest hooligans.

I doubt that the punitive measures announced by the Machakos governor against Gor Mahia or subsequent actions taken by KPL will change the ugly culture that is taking root in soccer today. Fining the clubs, sanctions against stadiums or withdrawing sponsorships have not worked in stamping out hooliganism. On the contrary they have simply hurt the clubs, the KPL and development of soccer in Kenya.
Governor Mutua inspecting the damage by fans

The increase in violence, spread among the clubs, has exposed inaptitude of Kenya’s soccer administration. On a larger scale, it reflects our inability to predict and deal with challenges. We must seek different solutions and we need to learn from elsewhere – soccer violence occurs in many other parts of the world and a lot of intelligence has been gathered about how to fight it.

England not only exported soccer to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, at the height of its greatness (the 1960s), it began to lead the way in soccer hooliganism from England. From there it spread to the continent, then into eastern Europe and beyond. In Kenya we can do without this infamous importwhich is becoming a blight on our local soccer scene.

Despite the glory and greatness of Gor Mahia FC, the club and all its fans including political leaders are now dubbed as hooligans! “Gor Mahia is a good football club. However, the behaviour of its fans is despicable and unacceptable,” the Machakos governor Dr Alfred Mutua has declared.

I have been a long time supporter of West Ham United (known as The Hammers), which plays in the English Premier League. It all began when I had the privilege of a brief sojourn in East London. What is sad is that supporters of a club are labelled as hooligans even though everyone knows it’s just a small group among the fans that actually create trouble.

West Ham United comes only a close second to their avowed rivals, Millwall FC, for having a reputation soccer hooliganism. The stigma of violence attached to Millwall can be traced back over 100 years. Millwall, known as ‘The Lions’, played local rivals West Ham United away at Upton Park on 17 September 1906 in a western League game. A local newspaper, East Ham Echo, reported that, “From the very first kick of the ball it was seen likely to be some trouble, but the storm burst when Dean and Jarvis came into collision (Millwall had two players sent off during the match). This aroused considerable excitement among the spectators. The crowds on the bank having caught the fever, free fights were plentiful.”

The worst recent example of the rivalry between Millwall and West Ham flared up during the 2009-10 season. The Lions were drawn against The Hammers in the Football League Cup. The police halved the number of tickets given to travelling Millwall fans from 3,000 to 1,500, sparking anger among Lions fans.

On the evening of 25 August 2009, clashes between some Millwall and West Ham’s ground, Upton Park, left 20 people injured, including one Millwall fan who was stabbed. The game itself saw about 50 West Ham supporters invade the pitch on three occasions, forcing the game to be temporarily suspended. The police said later that the large scale of the violence suggested it was organised beforehand.
Watching the English game today, one would never link them with their turbulent history of football hooliganism. We need to learn lessons from what the English game has done to put things right and defeat the violent elements who ruin the game for the majority of law-abiding supporters.

The governor announced a fine of KSh10 million for damage caused by Gor Mahia fans during the highly charged match at Kenyatta Stadium. The Kenya Premier league also charged Gor Mahia Ksh. 500,000, similar to that charged AFC Leopards for the chaos at City Stadium a week before this. But the question needs to be asked: does levying fines in any way deter those who cause this destruction?Surely those who are meant to pay the fines are not normally the troublemakers causing this chaos. We end up punishing the wrong people.

The case of Millwall FC in May 2002 is instructive here. Hundreds of hooligans attaching themselves to Millwall were involved in disorder around the ground after the team lost a play-off game to Birmingham City. The BBC described it as one of the worst cases of civil disorder seen in Britain in recent times. A police spokeswoman said that 47 police officers and 24 police horses were injured and the Metropolitan Police considered suing the club after these events.

The then chairman Theo Paphitis responded that Millwall could not be blamed for the actions of a mindless minority who attach themselves to the club. “The problem of mob violence is not solely a Millwall problem, it is not a football problem, it is a problem which plagues the whole of our society,” he said.
It was clear that notorious troublemakers had no contractual connection with the club, other than being a fan. Mr Paphitis introduced a membership scheme whereby only fans who would be prepared to join and carry membership cards would be allowed into The Den (Millwall’s home stadium). This action satisfied the Metropolitan Police that it withdrew its threat to sue, stating: “In light of the efforts made and a donation to a charity helping injured police officers, the Metropolitan Police Service has decided not to pursue legal action against Millwall F.C. in relation to the disorder.” The scheme introduced by Paphitis now only applies to perceived high-risk away games. Even so the solution does not satisfy everyone. Some fans argue the scheme diminishes Millwall’s away support.

Early kick-off times often reduce to a few hundred the number of travelling fans and there is less time for them to visit pubs before the game – drinking and violence often go together

In Kenya we can adopt these kinds of measures. Membership schemes will develop a responsible fan base and will give the clubs leverage over fans, assisting and educating them on the harmful effects of mindless hooliganism. This measure will encourage and motivate fans themselves to help weed bad elements among supporters.

On a serious note, how do we expect the clubs to pay fines levied on them? Who will enforce the fine collections. Let’s say clubs are sued: there is little doubt that the case cannot be won in courts. Again,the reasoning in the Millwall case by the MET Police services offers us some valuable insights. Legal experts say it would have been difficult to hold a football club responsible for something that occurred away from its ground and involved people who did not attend the match. Governor Mutua may have a really long wait for the Ksh. 10 million fine.

The Police play the greatest role in quelling hooliganism in UK football matches. Every match involving a notorious team becomes a huge police operation. There are careful, well-planned preparations before matches, alertness during games and planning to keep fans apart after games until all are safely home. UK police forces have established specialist football intelligence units tasked with identifying troublemakers and defusing tension before it gets out of hand. These units pass information to other forces and this nips trouble in the bud.

The number of police who man our stadiums and take charge after matches is a huge joke. Ten police officers cannot control crowds in tens of thousands. Effective police control during and after the matches are the only sure way to weed out the criminals. The day chaotic fans are arrested and personally charged for destruction of property, the message will go down to one and all, there is no hiding place in the crowds no longer. The clubs cannot arrest or prosecute nor have they capacity to deal with violence.

KFF should anticipate the violence and plan to deal with it. The clubs should be helped hire match stewards to help them forestall chaos during the matches and this must involve coordination with police force.

There are clear lessons to learn from the Meru experience. You may remember 21 May, when Gor played Tusker FC in Meru Kinoru stadium. Gor lost the match, watched among others by the Meru governor Hon. Munya. It was rumoured that the Meru governor and people of the town warned their known hooligans, that if any one touched property or caused problem in Meru, they will not waste time talking or taking them to police.

Due to the reputation of Meru people, there was no doubt that the message was received. Gor fans on this occasion began singing K’ogalo songs from Githurai. Here we go: the few elements can be singled out and dealt with firmly to nip the problem before it crushes us all!

Canon Francis Omondi.

All Saints Cathedral Diocese;

Anglican Church of Kenya