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English soccer shamed as Man United bus attacked

11 May 2016, 20:42

London - Manchester United's players took refuge in the aisle of the team bus, lying down almost on top of each other as thuds and banging were heard outside and objects hit the windows.

Some shouted, cursed, even laughed. Jesse Lingard, who had his phone in his hand to film the mayhem , turned the screen toward himself and put his hand to his mouth in apparent mock fear.

"Mummy, mummy," Lingard can be heard saying.

Also read: West Ham vows life bans for bus attack fans

It wasn't the average build-up to a Premier League game for United on Tuesday.

In scenes of violence that revived memories of the hooliganism that was rife in English soccer in the 1970s and '80s, United's bus, surrounded by riot police, was pelted with objects as it crawled through hundreds of fans toward Upton Park for the team's match against West Ham. Video footage showed damage to sections of the tinted windows of the bus.

Lingard, the United winger, managed to capture some of the violence on his phone from inside the bus and the images spread across social media. British newspapers carried a photo of a seemingly distressed mother and child being ushered away as flares went off on the litter-filled streets behind them.

The damaged bus carrying United's players eventually entered the stadium but kickoff was delayed by 45 minutes. United lost the match 3-2, hurting its ambitions of qualifying for next season's Champions League, and coach Louis van Gaal said the team's performance was influenced by what happened before the game, although he said he didn't want to make excuses.

On Wednesday, West Ham apologized for the pre-game incidents, saying some supporters "didn't act in an appropriate way when the Manchester United team bus was damaged."

"That was not acceptable," West Ham said in a statement, "and we will work with the police to identify those responsible and ban them for life."

The English Football Association said late Tuesday that it is investigating the incidents, viewed globally in part because of the involvement of United, one of the most popular teams in world soccer. The Premier League said it would not be commenting on the ugly scenes.

English soccer has largely put the dark days of the '70s and '80s behind it, with crowd trouble often confined these days to coin-throwing, field invasions, isolated racism or incidents that take place well away from the venues and instead in city centers. The introduction of all-seater stadiums since the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans died after a crush in a stand, has also enhanced the match-day experience of spectators who come from far and wide to watch the most popular league in the world.

On Tuesday evening, Emotions were high among West Ham's fans, with Upton Park hosting its last game before the club moves to the nearby Olympic Stadium next season. Upton Park has been West Ham's home stadium for 112 years.

It meant there were more fans as usual outside the ground near kickoff, with many wrapped up in the nostalgia of the occasion. Nearby pubs were filled.

West Ham was known for having an organized group of hostile supporters called the "Inter City Firm," which was active mostly in the '70s and '80s and at away games. The movie "Green Street," released in 2005, was based on the group.

The most recent case of crowd trouble involving West Ham was in 2009, before and during a match against local rival Millwall.

Following this latest incident, London police said Wednesday that four officers sustained minor injuries during the incidents. No arrests have been made over criminal damage to the bus but three men were arrested during the game, including one for fighting and two for entering the field.

Police are looking at camera footage and appealed for witnesses.

During the game, a bottle was thrown at United goalkeeper David de Gea from the West Ham end.

"I truly hope that in due course we will look back on what happened in the stadium rather than what happened outside and remember our farewell to the Boleyn for all the right reasons," said West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan, who initially blamed United for the delay to kickoff, saying the visiting team had set off to the stadium too late.

United had, in fact, set off earlier than usual from its hotel and met with congestion on the streets near Upton Park, also known as the Boleyn Ground.

"Sadly, the actions of very small minority of people outside the ground prior to kickoff risks overshadowing those celebrations," Sullivan said. "I want to be clear, their behavior was completely unacceptable and does not represent our club or our values."

- AP


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