English Football's Return To The Dark Days?

Ian CockerillContributor IMay 4, 2010

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - MAY 02:  Crystal Palace fans invade the pitch after the Coca-Cola Championship match between Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace at Hillsborough on May 2, 2010 in Sheffield, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

English football in the 1980s hit rock bottom. From Heysel to Hillsborough, fan violence, rioting, declining attendances, and a complete ban from European football.

The last two decades have been a startling contrast to the lows of the 80s, hosting Euro 96, brand and superb stadia, and boasting one of the best Leagues, and some of the best teams, in the world.

But is England creeping back, and beginning to relive those days we thought we'd all long left behind, the recent events in footballs suggest we may well be.

The scenes at both Hillsborough and Kenilworth Road over the weekend have once again bought up the memories from that period. Players being attacked after the game, fans confronting one another on the pitch, and a whole team cowering in the stand, and having objects thrown at them as their exit is blocked off.

It's these pictures which will get beamed around the world time and time again. English football fans sometimes feel victimised. Other countries in Europe can get away with crowd trouble, but the tiniest thing England does wrong, and our historical reputation goes before us. This feeling has certainly receded in recent years, as our fans became less and less notorious.

But there really seems to be an unsavoury element creeping back into English football. The statistics show that football-related arrests are falling slightly, but we haven't seen any violence on this scale for a long time.

Maybe it's social. The 1980s was blighted by unemployment, strikes, economic instability, as the UK is back in that situation, the hooligan element may be creeping back into our national sport.

The images of the York City players cowering with their own fans as (a minority) of Luton Town fans surround the tunnel and throw objects are disgraceful, and utterly contemptible. Many real Luton fans are already condemning the actions, as are those fans of Sheffield Wednesday, after their relegation at the hands of Crystal Palace.

The clubs can try and wash this off and apologise, but unless we see stern action from the FA, then this kind of thing won't stop. The vast minority are ruining it for the vast, vast majority. It may be cruel to be kind, but both clubs should be made an example of if they are punished.

That said, there were many, many pitch invasions over the last few weeks, from clubs celebrating their achievements, and there will be more to come this weekend, with the climax of Leagues 1 and 2. All of these passed off without incident, and the two that did go awry have been highlighted.

While we will never fully go back to the dark days of 25 years ago, the warning signs seem to be cropping up again. It may only happen in the lower leagues these days, but it shouldn't be brushed under the carpet. Incidents like this can damage our international reputation, and potentially cost us the 2018/2022 World Cup bids.

I genuinely hope this is the last incident we hear of for many a year to come.