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Antonio Rüdiger, the Chelsea defender, became the latest victim of an alarming rise in fan disorder in English football that has prompted the Football Association to launch a series of investigations.
Rüdiger was hit by lighters thrown from the Tottenham Hotspur supporters during the second half of Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over their London rivals at Stamford Bridge. Two men have been arrested, the Metropolitan Police confirmed.
The incident involving Rüdiger, who held up one of the lighters to show referee Paul Tierney, was the latest in a series of problems across the Premier League over the weekend.
A teenager was on Sunday night charged with assault and throwing an item onto the pitch after two Aston Villa players were hit by a bottle on Saturday as they celebrated their winning goal against Everton. Roger Tweedle, 19, was released on conditional bail, Merseyside Police said.
At Southampton, three Manchester City fans got onto the pitch following their 1-1 draw and there were confrontations with stewards and reports of a flare being set off.
There were also arrests at the match between West Ham United and Manchester United, including one on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker, while the game between Brentford and Wolverhampton Wanderers had to be paused because a drone was flown over the ground.
Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea head coach, appealed in a video ahead of the Spurs game for fans to stay off the pitch and the German believes action needs to be taken.
“If there is a new trend [of disorder], we should act together to stop it as soon as possible to protect the environment of this game and the atmosphere that’s absolutely unique in England,” said Tuchel.
“I love to have the fans close to the pitch. Not behind fences and not behind nets. It’s a brilliant atmosphere. In general I’m not concerned [for my safety]. I enjoy this atmosphere, also in away stadiums, it’s brilliant.”
On the Rüdiger incident, Tuchel added: “I just heard about it some minutes ago, but I was not aware of it during the match. I thought maybe something was happening with his opponent. I have zero information.” A Tottenham spokesman said the club would work with Chelsea to review the situation and take appropriate action.
In 2019, Rüdiger alleged that he had been the victim of racist abuse from Tottenham supporters and later claimed racism had “won” after nobody was punished.
On Sunday’s instance of missiles being thrown at Rüdiger, Antonio Conte, the Tottenham head coach, said: “I didn’t see what happened, honestly.”
This weekend’s incidents follow persistent warnings this season by the Crown Prosecution Service over homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic chanting and new data which shows that arrests at football across the top five divisions are at their highest since figures were first collated in 2015-16.
The latest data, which covers the first half of this season and the return of fans following the various Covid-19 lockdowns, shows that there have been more than 800 football-related arrests, as well as more than 750 reported incidents of disorder. The number of arrests has risen by almost 50 per cent and there have been incidents of disorder at almost half of all games, compared to just over a third in the equivalent period of the 2019-20 season.
The rises have come despite slightly fewer matches due to the flurry of postponements, with 210 incidents of disorder – which can include flares, missiles and hate crime – involving fans under the age of 25 compared to 168 in the 2019-20 season.
The spike in arrests and disorder also follows the shameful violence at the Euro 2020 final last summer, during which an FA-commissioned report found that "ticketless, drunken and drugged-up thugs" could have caused death after they stormed Wembley Stadium.
Chief constable Mark Roberts, the head of the UK's Football Policing Unit, told the BBC that cases of anti-social behaviour among younger fans had become a particular area of concern. The disorder has also meant a significantly increased police presence at matches.
Speaking as pundit on BT Sport for the Southampton v Manchester City game Jermaine Jenas, the former England midfielder, called for action and greater deterrents. “It’s going back to old times, the dark ages of football. Bottles and coins being thrown on to the pitch,” he said.
“There needs to be some serious punishments handed out to all the clubs behaving in this way. This has happened at various stadiums all season and they need to stamp it out.”
An FA spokesperson confirmed that they had launched several investigations this weekend. “We are investigating the fan disorder incidents at the Everton v Aston Villa and Southampton v Manchester City matches and we are liaising with the clubs and the police,” said the spokesperson.
“We are also looking into the events involving the drone at the Brentford v Wolverhampton Wanderers match, also liaising with the club and the police.”
Everton confirmed that one fan has been arrested. “Police have arrested a supporter at Goodison Park for throwing a missile onto the pitch,” said a statement. “Everton security staff and Merseyside Police identified the supporter using CCTV footage. Several objects were thrown towards the pitch following Aston Villa’s goal at the end of the first half, with one missile appearing to strike two opposition players. Investigations in conjunction with the police are ongoing, and the club will issue bans to any fans identified throwing objects.”