Shameful Sunday: 'My kids love football...but I'm scared they will be injured at games like this'
IT was dubbed 'Super Sunday' to reflect the best of local rivalries in the Barclays Premier League, but it turned into a series of disastrous derbies that shamed the so-called Beautiful Game. Sportsmail examines the distressing events, and their consequences, reverberating throughout football... Stadiums ringed with riot police, smoke bombs, pitch invasions, players being pushed over by fans. It's not how football is supposed to be any more. There was something about the bitter rivalry of Sunday's local derby day that briefly put the Barclays Premier League into a time warp back to the 1970s - a sort of football version of Life on Mars. Tensions flare: police control smoke at St Andrew's At Birmingham against Aston Villa, at Sunderland's meeting with Newcastle, and even when Liverpool met Everton at Anfield there were tales of aggression and confrontation. As the dust settled on a day of thrilling action on the pitch, but worrying incidents off it, football fans who have attended matches for decades spoke of their fears for the future - and voiced concerns that football derbies were no longer suitable for children. Paul Herron is a Sunderland supporter from Durham whose 14-year-old son Aiden bought him a ticket for Sunday's game as a Christmas present. His friend Reuben Horner is a Newcastle season-ticket holder who takes his sons Jacob and Ellis to St James' Park for alternate games. The scenes they have witnessed at recent matches have left them with serious concerns about the derbies. Paul said: 'I wouldn't like to have had a ticket near the away end. And if you were to offer me and Aiden a ticket for St James', I'd take it but I'd have major concerns about getting to and from the ground and would have to make sure I was convinced about our security.' Keeping the peace: Riot police patrol outside the Stadium of Light Reuben Horner added: 'I'd take my two lads to the Stadium of Light but only if we were bussed in and bussed out. There is no way I would risk going on public transport or in my own car.' As the only player to captain Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, Stan Anderson is no stranger to the intense feelings stirred between the North East's clubs. He says: 'When I left Sunderland for Newcastle there were people on my street who wouldn't talk to me.' But Anderson, 77, fears the atmosphere now has a far more poisonous feeling. After witnessing violence and troublemakers in Newcastle after Sunderland's 5-1 drubbing in October, he declined an invitation to see Sunday's rematch at the Stadium of Light. He said: 'Fans back then were not very tolerant if you had a bad game, and they were unhappy if you lost the derby, but there was never this threat of violence. When we got to the railway station all I could see were people looking for trouble. The language was incredible and the atmosphere was just horrible.' Fanatical: Ross Miller pushes over Steve Harper (above) but his father,Gary (with Ross below right) made him apologise As well as one young fan running on to the pitch to push over Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper, there were 24 arrests as police struggled to keep fans apart as they threw seats and bottles after the match. The fan who confronted Harper, Ross Miller, 17, who was released on bail on Sunday, went to Newcastle's training ground on Monday to apologise to the keeper. But the damage had already been done. A Sunderland statement said: 'The club operates a zero-tolerance policy towards anti-social behaviour of any kind in the Stadium of Light, and are proud of our reputation as a family club. Working closely with police, we will ensure appropriate action is taken against anyone found to have been involved in any such behaviour at Sunday's game.' Those concerns were echoed at St Andrew's as Birmingham officials reflected on a security operation that more or less prevented a repeat of the flare ping-pong and seat throwing that marred the Carling Cup match with Villa in December. There were just five arrests, although a smoke bomb was let off and stewards failed to stop a streaker getting on the pitch. But a bigger worry were the empty seats and attendance of 22,287 - the lowest for this derby in Premier League history. It was also 5,500 down on last month's crowd. West Midlands police insisted on empty areas around and above Villa fans, which reduced the capacity to 25,000, but even so Birmingham couldn't sell all their tickets. EVEN 'FRIENDLY' DERBY LEFT FAN WITH A BROKEN JAW A football fan was left with a broken jaw after he was set upon by a gang of thugs in an unprovoked attack before the Merseyside derby. The man was kicked and punched to the ground after stepping out of a taxi outside the King Harry pub on Anfield Road. Two people who tried to come to his rescue were also beaten up. The victim was rushed to hospital as police were forced to cordon off an area outside the pub and Anfield Road was closed for several hours to allow forensic examinations to take place. A public address announcement was made during the 2-2 draw between local rivals Liverpool and Everton to warn spectators to stay away from the crime scene. There was no trouble inside the stadium and Merseyside Police reported that Liverpool city centre was quiet after the game. The club believe a combination of post-Christmas austerity, Sky coverage and a noon kick-off were responsible for the low attendance. They insist there is no evidence to suggest that the threat of violence had frightened away some fans. But worried mother Emma Humphreys was so influenced by the events of last month she opted out of St Andrew's this time. Her son, Robbie, 15, was allowed to go but only with conditions attached. 'I saw all the riot police and thought it was a bit over the top,' admitted Emma. 'Then I thought, "At least my babby is safe". 'We dropped him off and picked him up. There's no way we were going to let him catch the bus.' The Humphreys live four miles from St Andrew's. Emma, husband Darren and Robbie were all at the Carling Cup quarter-final last month. 'We go to as many games as we can,' added Emma. 'We were sitting above the Villa fans so we felt safe but looking down and seeing flares being thrown, it was really scary.' Birmingham's attendances have been on the slide in recent years. Fans objected to the pricing policy of former owners David Sullivan and David Gold and have been slow to return. Yet the one match guaranteed to pull in the fans was the derby. The first four meetings in the Premier League attracted crowds of over 29,000. Villa, who took 3,000 to the cup fixture, had a reduced allocation of 1,750 on Sunday and fell a few short. Jonathan Fear, editor of Vital Villa fans' website, said, 'I don't go near the place because I can't take the hatred. It's a circus. I watched it on the TV with my Dad.' Long division: police stand in front of the Villa fans at St Andrew's. They insisted there were gaps between rival supporters and this significantly reduced the capacity Sunderland vow to boot out thugs after crowd violence erupts in derby showdown with NewcastleDerby day shame! Violence erupts during matches between Sunderland and BirminghamSunderland 1 Newcastle 1: Gyan leaves it late to deny Magpies derby doubleBirmingham 1 Aston Villa 1: Collins makes a point to hand Houllier a lifelineLiverpool 2 Everton 2: Kuyt spot-kick salvages point for King Kenny Explore more:People: David Sullivan, David Gold Places: Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham
Related Aston Villa News