The photos above are, in the main, of passionate people who made March 2 a special day in the history of Sunderland AFC.
They are not “scumbag football hooligans”, the elegant turn of phrase chosen by Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow and a supporter of Chelsea and Harlow Town, to describe the thousands of supporters who painted Covent Garden and other parts of central London red and white on the eve of the final.
Our curry-gorging, watch-collecting dignitary rattled off this nasty little tweet:
Went to London for dinner. Wish I hadn’t. Scumbag football hooligans turn Covent Garden into a disgusting Cesspit http://t.co/rodb7Bfk47—
Robert Halfon MP (@halfon4harlowMP) March 01, 2014
Did the police back him up? They did not. The Sunderland Echo reports warm praise for the supporters with only five arrests, four at or around the match and all of one in central London the night before. Yet thousands more, in the eloquent words of an elected politician, scumbags and hooligans. The crowds in Covent Garden – overwhelmingly Sunderland supporters – were said by officers to be “good-natured”.
And how does Halfon explain his tweet? By suddenly claiming he didn’t mean to target Sunderland supporters but was talking generally about any fans who happened to fit his grotesque description. Of course, as he must well know, the fans out on the town on Saturday were overwhelmingly Sunderland followers.
He made not the slightest attempt in his tweet to differentiate between good and (negligible handful of) bad. Instead, he steamed in with insulting, contemptuous language of which he should now be utterly ashamed.
Having made his sweeping attack, Halfon’s belated wriggling is absurd. But I will be fair enough to him to repeat what he told the Echo:
My tweet was to do specifically with the state of the area I saw and walked on, which was much broken glass and huge amounts of dropped litter in the roads. Why is it wrong of me to point that out?
I asked a police officer who told me that there were six clubs in the area. In no way was I, or did I, identify one club over another, in fact I was not sure who had actually done it other than it was people associated with football.
I specifically did not attack fans from any club but was referring only to those who had left the broken glass. It is wrong to say I have mentioned or described any fan’s from any club in the manner described.
I also make clear the distinction between genuine fans of which there are many, and have every right to enjoy themselves, and hooligans who throw and smash glass all over the road. As a football fan myself I have huge admiration for most British clubs.
That was the context of my tweet, which inevitably has been twisted or misunderstood as attacking a particular group of fans, or particular club, which was far from the case.
It really doesn’t wash when set against the snarling tone of his tweet. Methinks a Sunderland Conservative councillor Lee Martin, got it about right wrote: “Nice to see @halfon4harlowMP has labelled the 5000 Sunderland fans in Covent Garden last night scumbags and hooligans. Idiot.”
And I loved the tweet from a football writer with The Times, Tony Barrett, who posted a picture from Jan 2 with this message: “London after New Years Eve – ‘scumbag New Year revellers’ or just not enough bins?”
Salut! Sunderland has no power to force Halfon to make a public apology or to impeach or deselect him. But it can issue a challenge. It will allow him to explain himself properly, and deal with the offence he has caused, on these pages.