Violence at football matches is inexcusable. Sadly, some of those who have perpetrated it sell their books and gain notoriety and money by glorifying it. Having witnessed gratuitous and senseless attacks both by and on Cardiff City fans in the past, I can say that it is always shocking and painful.
One time, away at Wrexham, I saw a so-called Cardiff supporter lay into a much slighter Wrexham fan , who was walking on his own. It made me ashamed to be associated with the club.
My first memory of this kind of assault was when I used to follow Cambridge City and we were playing at Hendon in the Cup. My best mate Lart wore a black and white top hat which made him stand out. We were about thirteen and as slight as that Wrexham fan. Passing some Hendon fans, one very burly man just launched himself at Lart, who managed to struggle free, though he was bleeding profusely from his face. We were shaken and scared, but it didn't stop us going to see the sport we loved.
Thankfully, football has generally changed for the better, despite the malevolent influences of the English and Welsh Defence Leagues, who try to use it to recruit ignorant people to their obnoxious brand of Islamophobia.
Recently I attended the Huddersfield Carling Cup match and was delighted to see their fans drinking with ours outside the Ninian Park pub before the game. This was especially gratifying as two of my long-term friends are Terriers supporters.
Some 20 years back there was a totally different scenario before our League game with them. Walking on the pavement opposite to the same pub, I was there when a Huddersfield coach was pelted with bottles and glasses, shards flying and landing at our feet. The Town coach braked to a rapid halt and out piled loads of supporters who invaded the Ninian, where all hell broke loose.
Nowadays, we have become much more of a family club and this kind of violence is something I haven't seen for many years. Yet, I've read many postings on Facebook and messageboards by rugby fans praising their own sport for its lack of violence. If there are psychos amongst footie fans (and the police, it must be stressed), then in rugby they tend to be on the pitch. Eyes gouged out, bits of ears chewed off..........you'd need to bite off an opponent's goolies and spit them out in the ref's face to actually get sent off!
Moreover, three things brought home to me the violence which accompanies rugby. I have only ever been physically assaulted twice in my life for no reason and both times by rugby players (off the field).
In my last teaching post we were regularly visited a policeman, who used to work as an undercover cop in sport. He always told the pupils that ,in fact, the number of arrests of rugby supporters ( mostly at internationals) far exceeded football ones. Alcohol, freely available during the games, played a major role in this.
A friend and fellow poet Dave Hughes from Swansea, who worked for many years as a Social Worker, has written a vivid and disturbing poem called 'Grand Slam' about the domestic violence carried out by rugby fans, with their much more macho culture. He follows both sports , yet concedes that the influence of rugby - a sport which lauds physicality rather than skill in most instances - is appalling and the 'slam' itself becomes a metaphor for abuse of women in particular.
While I can't deny that football still has problems, important aspects like racism have been tackled head on and dealt with in this country in most cases.
It doesn't help anybody that the charging of an England supporter in relation to Mike Dye's death has been followed by threats of revenge in certain quarters. I'm sure his family and true friends would not want to tarnish memories in such a way.
For me, football has always been about passionately following your team whatever ; about the sheer thrill of scoring and winning and, as a Bluebird of many, many years, about appreciating the good times because I've known some really awful ones. It's about the hopes and possibilites that this season we will go one better, even though I'm cautiously optimistic.
My great friend Mike J. Jenkins, from the same village of Heolgerrig, was like-minded. He loved to stand on the terraces and join in the chanting. He was a generous , gentle and very funny man. His last words to me from his hospital bed were when I was walking to the Reading game ( second leg of the play-offs) - 'If we get to Wembley, I'll be there!'
Of course, we never made it. Neither did Mike.
(i.m Mike J. Jenkins)
I was sitting close to the curtain,
I couldn't even mouth 'Amen!'
I'm waiting for you as ever
comrade, Bluebird, friend
in the chapel you once gave a sermon
the priest praised a faithful Christian
I'll raise a pint of ale you loved,
namesake, Bluebird, friend
white cross of flowers on your coffin,
the standard blackness of mourning
we shared so much, even differences :
teacher, chanter of the terracing
the priest's tenor loudly resonating,
he spoke of a man of learning
you could tell stories defying any formula,
laugh-maker, math's man, friend
you were 'going home' he kept saying;
I heard you reply 'I belong here!'
I'm waiting for you, I'll be waiting forever,
my comrade, Bluebird, friend.