Arsenal’s Wednesday Europa League opener against FC Koln was delayed by an hour due to safety concerns related to fan activity outside the Emirates Stadium.
The concerns stemmed from away fans, who kicked down barriers outside the Emirates, reportedly stormed the stadium’s gates, and generally crowded the surrounding area. Many of them reportedly did not have tickets to the match, or had bought tickets in Arsenal sections and been refused entry.
At around 7:55 local time, fans were finally allowed to enter the stadium, but the trouble related to unruly visiting supporters turned violent inside the ground:
Koln fans fighting with stewards inside Emirates stadium. Group arrived in home end and fought their way into away section. pic.twitter.com/7RC17WZyz2
— Richard Conway (@richard_conway) September 14, 2017
Police and police dogs reportedly got involved. Meanwhile, police tried to control the scene outside the ground:
Bridge to Drayton Park blocked. Guards around Emirates say discussions between Uefa & clubs whether game goes ahead pic.twitter.com/ANNd2wJ1If
— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) September 14, 2017
After discussions between officials from the two clubs and UEFA, Arsenal decided that the situation was under control and that the game could be played. The Gunners won 3-1.
FC Koln was making its first appearance in a continental competition since 1992-93, and 20,000 of the Bundesliga club’s fans reportedly travelled to London for the game. They marched through the streets earlier in the day:
FC Koln have arrived & theyve brought 70% of any atmosphere the emirates will have tonight. pic.twitter.com/wlm9sG1XHg
— EmanDaGoon (@EmanDaGoonn) September 14, 2017
The visiting Germans caused some trouble, but, according to local police, “no significant disorder.” They did, however, hold up traffic, light flares and throw bottles, according to police.
But only 2,900 visiting supporters were allowed into the Emirates’ away end for the game. So thousands of fans who would not be allowed into the stadium crowded the area around the ground, causing chaos. According to the Mirror’s John Cross, they stormed the stadium’s gates:
Cologne fans have stormed gates, mayhem outside, the fear is they could end up being in home sections. https://t.co/1LrV4HXj3F
— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) September 14, 2017
Videos showed some fans kicking down barriers outside the stadium:
— BenchWarmers ⚽️ (@BeWarmers) September 14, 2017
Another video illustrated just how much the German fans had infiltrated the stadium:
There is a sobering history of overcrowding at British soccer games. Most notably, 96 fans were killed and hundreds more injured during a crush at Hillsborough in 1989. On that day, many Liverpool fans without tickets had been allowed to enter the stadium.
Authorities have since instituted numerous precautions to prevent another similar disaster, and the policing of matches is much more vigilant.
After the stadium’s gates opened, many of the Koln fans did make their way inside, and it perhaps became apparent that the issue was not ticketless fans. Rather, it was that many of the away fans weren’t in the designated away sections. Some appeared to have bought tickets on the secondary market from Arsenal supporters, or circumvented measures supposed to prevent them from buying tickets directly through Arsenal:
Pretty much everyone you see in this pic are Cologne fans – All those in the Arsenal end. They are everywhere. pic.twitter.com/5ca4X2S8Nt
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) September 14, 2017
By the time the away end had filled in, the Koln supporters were bouncing up and down, singing and chanting:
Köln fans in the ground: pic.twitter.com/iYX87VI914
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) September 14, 2017
There is a chance that some visiting fans bought Arsenal memberships solely for access to tickets reserved for Arsenal fans. The club apparently let it be known that even that wouldn’t work …
They said on their website any Koln fans with home end tickets would be refused entry, free money.
…. didn't quite work out, though.
— Ryan Tomes (@RyanTomes) September 14, 2017
… and perhaps that’s why some Koln fans were reportedly buying Arsenal shirts outside the ground, so they would be received as Arsenal fans and allowed to enter:
Koln fans are buying Arsenal tops to try and get into the stadium without a ticket.
It's like the opposite of The Great Escape pic.twitter.com/kSYCY8Ajcr
— Stephen Hagan (@stephen_hagan) September 14, 2017
Some even reportedly changed their phone backgrounds to pass as Arsenal supporters:
— Matt Ford (@matt_4d) September 14, 2017
Thirty minutes before kickoff, the Emirates was full of the visiting fans, and they certainly weren’t confined to the visiting sections of the stadium:
— Frazer (@frazerAFC) September 14, 2017
— gabriel clarke (@gabrielclarke05) September 14, 2017
On one hand, the thousands of Koln fans gave the notoriously quiet Emirates one of the best atmospheres it has ever seen. But safety remained a concern. The following are texts sent to the BBC and published on a live blog:
“Don’t feel safe inside and won’t feel safe outside. Should be called off and the Koln fans sent packing. Arsenal fans that sold their tickets should be banned.”
“Got to my usual seats in Club level with my 11 year old son. Surrounded by Koln fans. So unsafe we have been moved to the other side of the ground. Worst feeling at football in 40 years of watching home and away.”
“In the Emirates as a home fan… ashamed of Arsenal right now. All the warnings about turning away fans away and they’ve done nothing. No stewards to be seen. Feeling so intimidated.”
“Currently inside the Emirates, thousands upon thousands of German fans everywhere around us. Horrible tense atmosphere, Tens of thousands of fans being made to feel very unsafe, including very young children. Not sure how this has happened. Has to be said if the roles were reversed and I was a British fan doing this in a German city, I’d be hanging my head in shame.”
Some videos, however, showed innocuous, good-natured interactions between supporters of the two clubs:
Arsenal and FC Köln fans exchanging songs in the HOME END. Great atmosphere pic.twitter.com/74kiXLbHyv
— Brian (@shotb83) September 14, 2017
The game kicked off an hour after originally scheduled, and shortly after it began, Koln fans set off a flare:
First flares of the night. Another UEFA fine pic.twitter.com/wPtwa4eTYi
— Rob Draper (@draper_rob) September 14, 2017
Koln went 1-0 up early in the match through a long-range goal, and the many visiting fans exploded in celebration.
But Arsenal came back to win in the second half, and the rest of the game seemingly passed without incident in the stands.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.