Town fans get blame for match day disorder

THE man in charge of policing Swindon Town's games says the trouble at Saturday's match against Gillingham is among the worst he's seen in five years.

Town fans were held in the Priestfield stadium in Gillingham after the game in an attempt to calm the trouble.

Swindon police football liaison officer James Neighbour said: "This was one of the worst incidents I have seen in the five years of doing the job.

"Before the game there was a confrontation between fans, but police officers managed to keep them apart. Then during the game missiles were being thrown and people were thrown out of the stadium. Afterwards there was another confrontation."

PC Neighbour said video footage is being studied to see if any action can be taken against the offenders.

Town fan James Bye witnessed the problems first-hand. The 27-year-old IT technician said someone could have been killed at the game as rocks and glass beer bottles were hurled across the stands.

"All I wanted to do was watch my team play safely," he said.

"As we got out of the car we could see people fighting in the street.

"When we got to the ground we were told to line up with the Gillingham supporters. There was absolutely no control over the situation at all.

"As supporters were going into the ground no-one was being searched. At all games you are searched to stop the same thing that broke out this match.

"Swindon supporters were in the same stand as the Gillingham fans. Although we had been separated there was no meshing between us.

"As the game went on big rocks, coins and beer bottles were being thrown into the crowd.

"A young lad, who was about 12, was hit on the back of the head with one of the rocks. It was bleeding and his friends tried to help."

He added: "I can't believe there wasn't more done. It's the worst trouble I've ever seen at a game and there weren't enough stewards."

Insp Mark Holt of Kent Police confirmed there had been trouble. "Some public disorder did break out at the match at about 5pm," he said.

Gillingham club safety officer Malcolm Rous, a former policeman, belives the trouble was largely caused by Swindon Town fans.

He believes the trouble was started by Town fans going around the ground to get at Gillingham supporters.

He stressed that those responsible were a group of 40 to 50 people.

He said: "There is no place for the violence that happened at the end of the game and Swindon fans were responsible for it. There is no doubt about it."

Despite Swindon Town having a black manager, Mr Rous believes Gillingham's goalkeeper Jason Brown, who is black, was racially abused by a Swindon fan during the match.

Mr Rous said: "That person's details were taken and will be dealt with. Police are looking for evidence."

Mr Rous also rejected Mr Bye's claims that glass beer bottles were hurled across the stands.

He said: "We don't have glass bottles. The bottles we sell over the bars look like glass but are made of plastic."

"If a child did get hurt I would obviously be mortified but nothing like that was reported to us."

Roger Bunce, chairman of the supporters' club said: "I didn't hear any racial abuse, but I do think there were Swindon Town fans at that match that don't normally go to away games."

Five people have appeared in court charged with violent disorder following the game.

All five defendants were arrested in Medway after Gillingham's 3-0 win over Swindon in the League One clash.

One of the defendants, a 17-year-old from Swindon, cannot be identified for legal reasons but he was charged with violent disorder and released on conditional bail.

The other four defendants, who were also charged with violent disorder, were Darren Crew, 28, from Grafton Road, Swindon; Paul Telling, 21, from Barnham Court, Swindon; Anthony Betterton, 26, from Amersham Road, Swindon; and Kevin Meiklejohn, 28, from James Close, Chippenham.

All appeared at Medway Magistrates' Court on Monday morning to confirm their names, ages and addresses and were released on unconditional bail. They will appear again on February 16.

There has been bad feeling between the two clubs since 1979, when several Gillingham players were arrested and taken to Swindon police station for questioning after a post-match fracas at the County Ground.

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