How much trouble did FC Köln fans really cause at the Arsenal game?
Arsenal's clash against Bundesliga side FC Köln in the Europa League at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday was a historic night for many reasons. It was the first time the Gunners were back in the competition after almost two decades. It was also the first time in 25 years that the German side were back in Europe.
However, kickoff was delayed by an hour as 20,000 Köln fans descended in London and looked to get in to the Emirates. As is the norm, only 2,900 tickets were allocated to the away fans (in accordance with UEFA rules) but that didn't stop the German fans from finding other ways into the stadium to witness history.
The result was total chaos. Or an amusing scenario where the atmosphere at the stadium vastly improved thanks to the boisterous Köln fans who found their way inside. It depends on which reports you choose to dwell on.
Why did thousands of Köln fans arrive in London without tickets?
For those not in the know, Köln have some of the most passionate football fans in Germany. Even though the club has been struggling in recent years (they've been relegated five times in the last two decades), the 47,000 capacity RheinEnergieStadion still sees fans turn up in numbers. They saw an average attendance in excess of 40,000 fans even when they were in the second tier.
They had bounced back quickly since their most recent relegation in 2012 and last season saw them finish a creditable fifth. Although they finished 13 points behind fourth-placed Hoffenheim, ask them if they care. A Europa League spot was guaranteed and they couldn't have been happier.
Then came the Europa League draw and when they were drawn in the same group as a prestigious club as Arsenal (a Champions League regular with a 60,000 capacity stadium), they were over the moon. Their local hero Lukas Podolski was also an Arsenal hero with 82 games in the red-and-white under his belt.
The majority of the fans simply wanted to be in London for the game. Flights were booked and train tickets were bought without confirming tickets to the game itself. North London woke up to a German invasion - fans armed with megaphones, drums and the occasional flare.
Why confusion and chaos reigned at the Emirates
You'd think with thousands of fans on the streets, the police would be better prepared before the situation got out of hand. But the police presence was negligible before more forces were scrambled much later.
Köln fans without tickets then tried to buy tickets to the sections of the stadium meant for the home fans. This was a concept that was alien to a generation of fans making their first away trip in Europe.
Back in the Bundesliga, fans are not segregated. Of course, the main sections are out of bounds thanks to ultras and plain old common sense preventing away fans from purchasing those tickets. But home fans and away fans are allowed to buy tickets to the others sections without any restrictions imposed in Germany.
Not in England, though.
When they realised this was the case, a number of fans then proceeded to remove their Köln jerseys to buy tickets to the home end. Many ingenious fans even bought Arsenal scarves from the gift shop to pass off as Gunners fans.
Those who did get in then tried to make their way into the away section to be with their own fans. Now this is unforgivable as it put the stewards at risk, not to mention the safety of the other fans.
Riot police were called in to ensure nothing untoward happened and, thankfully, there were no outbreaks of violence we are so accustomed to seeing in Europa League games in other parts of Europe.
A number of Arsenal fans decided not to stay and watch the game, leaving as soon as they realised it was no longer "safe" to sit among Köln fans. This is understandable, especially for families (and those with children) who are used to segregation of fans.
In 11 years at the Emirates, they have never faced anything of this sort and clearly took the 'safety first' option. The late kickoff also did not help.
The German fans in the home end were told not to celebrate if their team scored. But how do you keep your emotions in check when Jhon Cordoba fires in the opening goal from nearly 40 yards out?
English fans unaccustomed to seeing rival fans celebrating in their end complained to stewards and some were actually escorted away. What they need to understand is the difference between passionate fans and those looking to cause trouble.
Fans screaming themselves hoarse, bobbing up and down and simply having a good time are not hooligans. One noted English journalist claimed they were "out of control" in his column. Far from it.
Issues which need to be investigated
The only isolated incidents that require censure were a portion of fans bringing down temporary barricades outside the stadium when they realised there was no way in. But these fans were quickly stopped by other Köln supporters.
A couple of stewards were also ambushed inside the ground and arrests were made. A flare was lit inside the stadium in the away end but it's harldy the first time that has happened at the Emirates (remember the Bayern Munich game?).
What needs to be questioned is the manner in which Arsenal allowed Köln fans to buy tickets into the home end. They claim they complied with all regulations and did not allow such sales to take place but ticket touts made merry with many selling tickets at five times the face value. And Köln fans were still buying them.
"[The Cologne fans] were very clever. I don't know how they managed to infiltrate our fans and get everywhere but they did that very well. I don't know did they go through Arsenal membership, on the internet. But they did very well." - Arsene Wenger
On their part, UEFA have charged both clubs following the crowd disturbances at the game. Köln face charges relating to crowd disturbances, setting off flares, throwing objects and damage caused while the Gunners were charged with blocking a stairwell in the away section.
Lessons to be learned?
What happened at the Emirates could have been avoided. The warning signs wehre there when thousands of Köln fans landed in London on the day of the game.
However, to paint the entire fanbase due to the actions of a select few is narrow-minded. It does not bode well for the future.
And what of fan segregation? It was put in place decades ago to check the rise of hooliganism in the game. It's a delicate issue that is not going to go away anytime soon. But unless it's a derby game or a clash between arch-rivals, away fans are usually well-behaved (at least in England) thanks to the security protocols put in place by the authorities.
There is no reason why fans from another country and league altogether cannot sit among the home fans and enjoy a game of football. The club sells tickets and the fans get what they want - a game of football and a party-like atmosphere.
Judging by the lukewarm response from Arsenal fans to the Europa League, they could have allocated a few more tickets for the away fans.
The atmosphere at the Emirates has oscillated between a library and a cauldron of poisonous hate in the past couple of years. But isolated complaints aside, what the Köln fans brought to the Emirates was a welcome change.
Translation: About 50 people have ruined it for everyone. Ridiculous! The mood in the stadium was cool.