Racial abuse of a steward and violent clashes with police as hooligans shame Hungarian football

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Hungary hooligans in running battles with police inside Wembley - GETTY IMAGES
Hungary hooligans in running battles with police inside Wembley - GETTY IMAGES

England’s World Cup qualifying draw with Hungary was overshadowed by fighting between visiting supporters and the police that was sparked by a report of racism.

Just over a month after England players were subjected to racist chanting in Budapest, fights broke out between Hungary fans and police when a spectator was arrested for allegedly racially abusing a Wembley steward.

There were also unconfirmed reports that as police started to film the disorder, Hungarian ultras wearing balaclavas attacked them and tried to take their camera.

The game was not even five minutes old when the violence broke out in the away end, with large groups of Hungary fans fighting police officers who were eventually forced to retreat back into the entrance to the concourses and use batons to protect themselves.

A Metropolitan police statement, released at half-time in the game, said: “Shortly after the start of tonight's match at Wembley, officers entered the stand to arrest a spectator for a racially aggravated public order offence following comments made towards a steward.

“As the officers made the arrest, minor disorder broke out involving other spectators. Order was quickly restored and there have been no further incidents at this stage.”

A Football Association statement said: “We are aware of an incident in the away section during tonight’s Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifier at Wembley Stadium. We will be investigating and will report the incident to Fifa.”

On the trouble in the Hungarian end, England manager Gareth Southgate said: “I’m only hearing this as I’m doing the interviews. I was aware of a disturbance. It sounds like it was not acceptable, but I haven’t seen the detail.”

Hungary’s fans had booed the England players as they took the knee ahead of kick-off at Wembley, with one group holding up a banner that showed a line drawn through a picture of a player taking the knee. The Hungary players remained standing, some pointing to the anti-racism badge on the sleeves of their shirts, while the England team kneeled.

A Hungarian fan holds up a banner showing a line drawn through a picture of a player taking the knee - SHUTTERSTOCK
A Hungarian fan holds up a banner showing a line drawn through a picture of a player taking the knee - SHUTTERSTOCK

England defender Tyrone Mings, who confirmed he had been unaware of the fighting during the game, said: “We’ve faced backlash and criticism for taking the knee and we have collectively stood passionately together. That has carried us as a squad. It doesn’t change when people hold banners or disagree.

“It’s very difficult for me to speak freely on an issue to do with the police. Every time we speak about racial abuse, it (the punishment) never seems to be quite in line with what has happened. I sincerely hope the punishment fits what has happened.”

It was evident that, throughout the match, the majority of Hungary fans gathered at the front of the away end and crowded into the front rows and the aisles, where they stood instead of sitting. The scenes were reminiscent of the final of the European Championship when ticketless hooligans broke into Wembley.

Around 700 Hungarian fans were said to be inside the away end and it is thought most of those tickets were bought by Hungary supporters inside the UK.

Despite the violence and opposition to taking the knee, Hungary’s players went over to applaud and celebrate with their supporters at the full-time whistle.

Asked about the fighting and allegation of racism, Hungary manager Marco Rossi said: “I don’t want to comment on this situation because it’s not my task. Anything I say could be interpreted in a different way so I prefer not to comment.”

Hungary fans clash with police inside Wembley during World Cup qualifier with England - GETTY IMAGES
Hungary fans clash with police inside Wembley during World Cup qualifier with England - GETTY IMAGES

The Metropolitan police had confirmed that they were to increase their presence outside Wembley on Tuesday night in a bid to combat any trouble outside the ground.

A spokesperson for the police had said: “The Met is developing a policing plan to ensure the safety of visiting fans. A number of officers will be on duty, conducting high visibility patrols around Wembley Stadium.”

But the increased police presence, together with the FA’s measures to try to protect fans and staff, evidently did not work with police and stewards clearly being attacked.

Although the initial violence calmed down, a green smoke bomb was let off when Hungary took the lead in the 25th minute.

England fans nearest the away end retaliated when John Stones equalised, which led to both sets of supporters trading insults across the covered section of seats that separated them.

Groups of home supporters had also booed the Hungary national anthem before kick-off and chanted “you racist b-------, you know what you are.”

World governing body Fifa has vowed to take the “most appropriate action” against any individuals found to have committed any form of violence, discrimination or abuse, and also flagged incidents in another Group I encounter between Albania and Poland, which was suspended for more than 20 minutes when home fans threw objects at Polish forward Karol Swiderski.

A Fifa statement read: “Fifa is currently analysing reports of last night’s Fifa World Cup qualifier matches in order to determine the most appropriate action.

“Fifa strongly condemns the incidents at England v Hungary and Albania v Poland and would like to state that its position remains firm and resolute in rejecting any form of violence as well as any form of discrimination or abuse. Fifa has a very clear zero-tolerance stance against such abhorrent behaviour in football.”

The latest incidents of disorder were particularly unwelcome for Wembley and the FA the scenes of lawlessness at the final of the European Championships in July.

Ticketless supporters forced their way into the stadium for the final against Italy with reports of attempted theft of tickets and fans and players’ families being knocked to the ground.

Hungary were fined £158,416 and ordered to play behind closed doors by Fifa after Jude Bellingham and Raheem Sterling were subjected to racist chanting in Budapest last month. The two-match stadium ban followed sanctions already imposed on Hungary by Uefa for racist and homophobic incidents at Euro 2020.

A Fifa statement said: “The Fifa Disciplinary Committee has imposed a ban and a substantial fine on the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) in relation to the racist behaviour of numerous supporters during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying match between Hungary and England on 2 September 2021.”

England and the FA are waiting to find out whether they will face punishment for the violence that overshadowed the final of the Euros.

The possibility of a stadium ban has not been ruled out, although it is believed the FA would challenge any such sanction and want to put forward their own mitigation.

Comment: Wembley has become a 'cup final' for hooligans

By Mike McGrath

When Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal used Wembley as their temporary 'home' ground while their stadiums were being built, one question put to players was whether the most prestigious arena in England disadvantaged them by increasing the motivation of their opponents.

Players who may never have stepped foot on the turf of Wembley were given their big moment in the form of a Champions League group game, an early EFL Cup tie or Premier League fixture featuring low on the Match Of The Day running order.

In a disturbing three months at Wembley, the concern for those operating the national stadium is whether the famous site is now a “cup final” for hooligans; a magnet for thugs intent on disturbing high-profile events.

This seems to have been the case when Hungarian fans clashed with police minutes into the World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Tuesday evening. After hurling missiles and racially abusing England players in Budapest last month, fights broke out after a spectator was arrested for allegedly racially abusing a Wembley steward.

The Metropolitan Police’s statement describing “minor disorder” belied what those at Wembley saw with their own eyes. These were ugly scenes with fans in the Hungarian section pushing back police into the stadium concourse. Punches were thrown and police used batons as they attempted to control the situation.

There were empty sections of seats either side of the Hungary section, meaning surrounding fans were not endangered by the trouble. But it still raises the question of whether it is an arena where parents would want to take their children to watch football.

And who could blame them for having second thoughts about whether Wembley is a family-friendly destination for a high-profile game after the Euro 2020 final in July. Then, walking from Wembley Park tube station to the stadium meant running a gauntlet of drunken fans, thrown bottles and open drug-taking.

On that day, Wembley was the pilgrimage for “jibbers” who get into stadiums without a ticket. It was not a safe place for those in the disabled section in front of the press box, which was invaded, nor in the section for the families of England players.

At least the level of security required for an England match seemed to be at a more adequate level three months on from the Euro 2020 final. On that evening, as 250,000 people descended on Wembley Park, there did not seem to be enough stewards or police presence. For the Hungary fixture the police presence was visible and acted swiftly.

The Football Association’s investigation will shine a light on the organisation of these two matches which have been overshadowed by violence. Their swift statement, issued as England drew 1-1, said that Fifa would be given their findings.

To be given another high-profile game for a Fifa or Uefa tournament will need those findings to lead to assurances of the stadium being a place to take fans of all ages to matches. At the moment it is associated with the dark side of football fans.

The mortgage has almost been paid on the £789 million project but in those 14 years since opening it needs to adapt to the times too.

To have any hope of hosting the biggest games in world football, Wembley and Met Police should start by making Wembley Way a ticket-only area. It has always been a dangerous bottleneck from the top of the stairs at the entrance of Wembley Park tube station, where fans stop for selfies of the famous arch.

Even after the game on Tuesday night, witnesses saw drugs being exchanged and fans so drunk they could barely stand. One troublemaker was shouting abuse at every person they passed, while medics tended to someone who had fallen to the ground.

It was noted that there were no police on hand at that time of night, adding to the atmosphere of being a place not fit for families.

That half-mile walk has a designer outlet with restaurants and cafes at the other end. It should be a place associated with the joy of fans enjoying their pre-match festivities before a big game. Yet it is now synonymous with carnage.

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