'This isn’t football, this is boxing'
Callum Rudge reflects on the crowd violence that he witnessed first hand at the Copper Box Arena on Saturday 15 July...
“This isn’t football, this is boxing.”
These words - coming from an audio technician - were met with huge applause at the Copperbox Arena on Saturday 15 July as a group of men outside of the ropes did their best to beat each other senseless after Asinia Byfield and Sammy McNess had finished boxing within the ropes.
The incident felt like a seminal moment for our sport - while you occasionally get skirmishes at boxing this was approximately 40 people doing their best to cause serious harm to one another - I witnessed a security guard being ganged up on by three men as he tried to calm things down and a young lady caught by a stray blow just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As this was going on, I also spotted two elderly couples get up and leave - no doubt they’ll think twice before coming to a boxing event again.
The sport has changed over the last ten years, the experience of going to boxing has changed. Long gone are the days of sitting there with a cup of tea filling in scores on a programme, now it’s pints of lager and singing along to 'Sweet Caroline'.
These changes have mostly been for the better, with shows regularly being sold out across the country, but along with these changes we have seen the development of a more tribal following from some boxing fans and this was evident on Saturday night.
Sammy McNess is East London born and raised and rightly gets the support of his community
There were plenty of football colours on display Saturday night - West Ham flags were tied to the upper tier, West Ham apparel was in sight every time you turned around and these supporters were in full voice, from 'I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles' to 'Irons' to the slightly more sinister 'Viva Lazio', a nod to the Fascist history of the Italian club.
While I’m in no way trying to single out West Ham as a football club or their support for what happened, the presence of support which is so explicitly tied to a football club can create a hostile atmosphere, especially for those who chants and songs are aimed at.
The violence last Saturday was nothing like I’d ever seen before first hand. Those involved were rightly described as “idiots” and "hooligans" by promoter Frank Warren, who also correctly pointed out that they were a "small minority" who "cause a lot of trouble".
However, although the incident gained a fair amount of traction on social media and in the local and national press, there has been little comment or discussion about how to prevent something like this happening again. If an incident of this sort had happened at a top football match, it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country.
Big boxing events are now a place 'to be seen' and we don’t want to go back to the days of half empty arenas like the early 2000s. Some have mentioned the possibility of an alcohol ban at boxing events, but I don’t see that happening - after all no one will be doing mini-karaoke without a drink in them.
However a football colours ban, similar to the rule that Matchroom’s PBC darts has in place, might go some way to making boxing a more inclusive sport.
We in the media have a responsibility also to temper our own language and rhetoric - we’re quick to talk about 'genuine needle' and 'heated beef', but it’s important that we remember this is a sport and we want the opposing fans to be shaking hands after the bouts, not just the boxers.