LONDON, United Kingdom, Oct 27 – West Ham manager Slaven Bilic has condemned the ugly crowd scenes which marred his side’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the EFL Cup.
The Hammers issued a statement within an hour of the game at London Stadium, promising life bans for any culprits identified by CCTV.
And the FA are sure to launch an investigation after rival fans had to be separated by riot police inside the ground with seats ripped out and hurled, along with bottles and coins.
Bilic said: ‘We are totally against it as a club and a team. For those kind of things to happen is unacceptable.’
An evening that began with simmering tensions as scuffles broke out between supporters outside the turnstiles ended with damning images of West Ham and Chelsea fans having to be separated by riot police.
By half-time, an image posted on social media appeared to show a Chelsea fan with his head cut after being struck by a coin, and later footage showed seats ripped out and hurled between fans along with bottles and coins.
One supporter described the scenes as ‘an absolute nightmare’ on BBC Radio 5 Live. ‘It was like the 1970s, the amount of coins that were thrown, seats that were thrown. The lack of stewarding, the policing walking around not doing a lot, no-one I saw was thrown out for anything. If they don’t close that stadium then someone could get killed there.’
The shameful scenes broke out in the final five minutes of the game as rival factions appeared to breach the lines of segregation and tried to confront each other in the zone above the seating areas. As stewards and riot police raced into the area, hundreds of fans appeared to be involved as tensions rose.
Bilic condemned the clashes, describing the situation as ‘unacceptable’ and within an hour of the final whistle the club issued a statement vowing to issue life bans to those involved.
‘West Ham United and London Stadium partners unreservedly condemn the behaviour of individuals involved in incidents during this evening’s fixture with Chelsea,’ the statement read.
‘Whilst quickly brought under control, the Club, in line with its clear zero tolerance policy, will work closely with London Stadium 185, the Metropolitan Police Service and Chelsea to identify the individuals involved. Once identified, those found to have acted improperly will be banned from attending any West Ham fixtures for life and we will request the courts serve banning orders to prevent these individuals attending any other football.’
The first major grudge match against a London rival, this was always set to be a powder-keg assignment for West Ham in their new stadium. On Monday, a joint statement by West Ham, operators London Stadium 185 and landlords E20 Stadium LLP declared that there were ‘categorically not’ safety issues for supporters in the ground despite violence at matches against Bournemouth, Watford and Middlesbrough this season. West Ham have already banned 23 fans.
The fixture calendar may have been kind, with Arsenal the first big London club to visit the Hammers in the Premier League on December 3, but the EFL Cup sent a curveball with a tie against bitter rivals Chelsea.
Police cannot be stationed inside the stadium until February except in the case of crime breaking out owing to the absence of radio system Airwave that allows forces to communicate safely. This match, therefore, would be an acid test for West Ham and the stakeholders of a stadium which was the centrepiece of the London Olympics. The club does not have direct control of safety planning as that is in the hands of the operators.
Before this game former Upton Park stewards, who have a greater rapport with West Ham fans, were recruited to be positioned in the more potentially volatile areas of the stadium.
The purchase of alcohol was banned from mobile bars outside the ground, and segregation was assured post-match through giant fences to separate supporters outside the stadium. Chelsea had implored West Ham to protect their fans in a statement ahead of the match, which read: ‘We are looking at West Ham United and the local authorities to deliver a safe event.’
However, the first sign of trouble arose outside the away entrance 15 minutes before kick-off. A block of several hundred Chelsea supporters arrived en masse at the staircase that led up to their entrance at turnstile D and a flare-up ensued.
An on-duty police officer told Sportsmail: ‘A large group of Chelsea fans came all together and they had to be held back at the bottom of the stairs as West Ham supporters were entering along the way. They also had to be restrained.’
What followed was a quarter of an hour of angst, scuffles and foul-mouthed arguments. With kick-off approaching, fans became increasingly frustrated by the refusal to let them enter, and the police and the response team (stewards appointed by stadium operators) did not seem to be on the same wavelength.