Safety is something that many first time travelers to English football worry about. You hear stories and read about hooligans, and brawls at matches, and supporters being jumped on the tube, and things of that nature. From my experience, it is absolutely something to be concerned about, but is not a problem as long as you know how to conduct yourself and are aware of your surroundings.
As described in other articles on this site, the relationship between home and away supporters in England is very different than in America. In the US, there are occasionally fights at American football games, but usually home and away fans can mix in the stadium parking lots, bars, and in the stadium itself without issue. This is not the case in England, where away supporters have their own stadium entrances and are kept completely separate from the home supporters. This extends itself to bars around the stadiums on match day, where they usually require identification in the form of a ticket or your Red Membership card to prove that you are a home supporter.
Because of this, there are expectations for conduct that you must follow in places where you could encounter supporters of other teams. These include:
- Do not wear your colors (kits, or anything else that identifies you as an Arsenal supporter) on the tube when heading to the match, ESPECIALLY if that match is against another London club.
- If you are attending a match at another stadium as a neutral (which I would highly recommend doing on your trips to London, especially some of the lower tier clubs), do not wear anything that identifies you as an Arsenal supporter, mention your support of Arsenal, or generally make any reference to Arsenal.
- When you are walking outside of the stadium, especially after the match, be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to the away supporters. Depending on the opponent, especially if they are a team that is regarded as docile and not a rival, the stewards will allow the away supporters to leave the stadium unescorted and mill about the concourse outside the stadium. This is often true with Europa League opponents, and can lead to dangerous situations.
The reality is that 99%+ of football supporters in England are normal people who enjoy cheering for their team and against their opponents, and aren’t actually looking to engage in any violent behavior. But there are still a small minority of supporters who long for the more violent days of the 1970’s and 1980’s when violence was much more common. As long as you are careful to avoid these people and are aware of your surroundings, you will be fine.
One other thing to note is that among stadiums in the Premier League, the Emirates is (for better or worse) one of the safest, least rowdy grounds. Of the violent events I’ve personally witnessed as a supporter in England, none of them have happened at the Emirates.
In my many trips to London, I’ve seen quite a few violent altercations, although almost all of them have been resolved without (to my knowledge) serious injury. Here are some of the more memorable ones:
- I went to an FA Cup tie between Sp*rs and Millwall at Shite Hart Lane as a neutral (because I had to see the place where we won the League twice and they never won in person before they tore it down, and I never made it to an away NLD at the Lane), and the Millwall supporters lived up to their reputation as the most violent supporters in London. The Spuds were egging the Millwall fans on the entire match, singing the time honored chant “You’re Fucking Shit, You’re Fucking Shit, All of Your Supporters are Fucking Shit” nonstop. The first incident happened when three Millwall supporters had purchased tickets in the home sections, and were found out by several Spuds. A brawl ensued, and the three Millwall supporters went toe to toe with three police officers for several minutes. The fight ended when a fourth (larger female) cop showed up, and she absolutely annihilated the Millwall supporters. One was tossed over the railing and fell down some concrete steps, another was knocked out after being punched in the face, and the third was corralled and handcuffed.
- After that match, the Millwall supporters managed to break through the police barriers that were escorting them to the tube station, and ransacked the main line of bars outside of the stadium. I had to legitimately dodge a rock that was thrown at my head, and take cover in a bar which put down hurricane style blast doors after the Millwall supporters shattered all of the glass.
- On that same trip, I also went as a neutral to an FA Cup tie between Chelsea and Man United at Stamford Bridge. There, I witnessed two Chelsea supporters reading another fan’s phone over his shoulder, and they determined that he was actually a United supporter. One of them grabbed him by the neck and slammed his face into the seat while the other smashed his phone, and afterwards the two simply walked away before a steward could do anything about it.
- I went to a Wimbledon match versus Bury (RIP), and in the bathrooms at halftime I made an absolute rookie mistake of mentioning that I was an Arsenal supporter when one of their fans asked why someone with an American accent was visiting their club. He responded, “oh FUCK Arsenal” and made some intimidating motions toward me before some other Wimbledon supporters stood up for me. I ended up befriending that second group of supporters, and ended up having a great night with them in South London watching the Kentucky Derby on TV.
On your trips to London, you’ll likely encounter similar things, but it’s all part of the experience and hopefully you will end up with some similarly entertaining stories like I recounted above!