Save your anger for the troublemakers

Ian Wooldridge

Last updated at 00:00 16 November 2001

THE fierce debate sparked by Ian Wooldridge's comments earlier this week regarding a 'brainless' element among the Tottenham faithful continues, with letters still pouring in to Sportsmail - and Wooldridge standing his ground.

THE generous response to my Wednesday column about Sol Campbell's appearance for Arsenal at White Hart Lane tomorrow - 348 communications so far, plus a less than rapturous telephone call from someone claiming to be a Tottenham Hotspur executive - suggests I may have struck an exposed nerve.

Good. That was precisely the intention.

Clearly many were roused to fury by words like ' hatefilled', 'ignorant', ' moronic ' and 'low-level dregs' which appeared in that article.

That was entirely to miss the thrust of my argument.

I am well aware that the majority of Tottenham and Arsenal supporters - indeed the majority of football fans throughout the country - are well-behaved citizens who uphold the law, pay their taxes, don't belt their wives and search out the best educations obtainable for their children.

My targets were, and still are, the hate-filled, ignorant, moronic, lowlife dregs of our society who have so openly threatened to bring mayhem to White Hart Lane tomorrow that the National Criminal Intelligence Service is to deploy a massive police presence inside and outside the stadium.

'There is vile hatred going around,' declared a NCIS spokesman. 'This is a high-risk situation. There will inevitably be trouble.' Inevitable trouble?

Provoked by a football match?

This is my lucky homeland for which I and thousands of other British families sacrificed loved ones in wars so that we may go about in peace. They also preserved the right to free speech, a privilege I now invoke by insisting I do not budge an inch from the Wednesday column that caused so many readers to see red.

Briefly, for those not quite up to speed with what this is all about, the threatened uproar concerns Sol Campbell, a talented England defender and one- time Tottenham hero, moving from White Hart Lane to Arsenal, their near North London rivals.

Obviously this was not the most diplomatic step he may have taken, and money - lots of it - may well have been the motivation. But it was completely legal, a fact which a small minority of malevolent Spurs supporters ignored when they chose to interpret it as defection and treachery.

Good heavens - politicians have diametrically crossed the floor of the House of Commons from one extreme party to another without incurring such vicious invective!

The first thing these socalled fans did was to hang a placard inscribed 'Judas' round the neck of an effigy of Campbell, string it up in a busy spot outside White Hart Lane and set fire to it.

My allusion to the fact that this was how the Ku Klux Klan used to persecute reallife victims who, like Mr Campbell, were black , caused outrage.

I appreciate that the huge majority of Tottenham supporters are not racist but, if you attempt to convince me that a hard core of their symbolic lynch-mob aren't, you must be living on another planet.

So what now?

TOMORROW, we are told, these dregs of humanity plan to release thousands of 'Judas' balloons and turn their backs on Sol Campbell when he emerges from the tunnel.

Glenn Hoddle, Spurs manager, and David Buchler, the club's vice chairman, have joined forces in appealing for calm.

We must thank them for their obvious concern but, for God's sake, we are not talking about a suspected Bin Laden terrorist attack on an English sports stadium.

We are discussing a simple football match which has been threatened by totally unacceptable, anti- social behaviour.

As I wrote on Wednesday, there are laws against the provocation of civil unrest, and I trust the huge number of police officers present will use their powers of arrest if the balloon goes up.

Personally, I have not the remotest interest in the result of this bitter contest, but I do hope Sol Campbell is accorded a respectable and peaceful, if understandably cool, reception.

In short, I retract not a single word I wrote in a column which has attracted so much opprobrium. I suspect the instant response was orchestrated by a certain element at Tottenham Hotspur.

Fair enough. It's a free country. But I would like to think they will expend similar energy banning the insidious troublemakers who have brought this great football club to the very cliff edge of ill repute.

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