Two weeks ago Watford fan Nic Cruwys went to Wolverhampton to watch his side battle for points in its push for promotion to the Premier League. He ended the day in a coma after he and his friends were attacked by a local gang. Australian contributor, Andrew Lawrence was at the match…
Imagine waking up the morning of a football match. You’re excited. It’s an away game, and the opportunity presents itself to disappear for a day with your mates, have a few drinks and enjoy a game of football.
You kiss your kids goodbye, tell your wife you love her, and then head out the door with the traditional “see you tonight”. Only this time, instead of returning home like all the other matches before, you don’t come home because within fifteen minutes of the game ending you are lying face down unconscious in a street not far from the stadium.
A fortnight ago I went to a football match in Wolverhampton and this is what happened. Perhaps not exactly as I described it. I don’t know if 44 year old postman Nic Cruwys kissed his kids, or told his wife he loved her.
I don’t know if he and his mates had any drinks at the game or whether he ended up face down in Littles Lane, or ended up lying on his back or on his side.
I do know that Nic, a Watford fan, ended the day in a coma in a Wolverhampton hospital with multiple fractures to his skull. I do know that I went to the same match with a ticket bought through the same club.
I sat in the same away section as Nic Cruwys, left the stadium around the same time and followed the same route home onto the Ring Road. Nic turned left into Littles Lane to head towards the train station. I kept going along the Ring Road to go watch a movie. Fate often hangs on the thinnest of margins.
Although I don’t owe any particular allegiance to Watford, I have watched them play a couple of times this season. I live in North London and Watford is the closest professional football club to my home.
On this particular weekend my favourite team, Liverpool, were playing on the Sunday, and even if I had the inclination to travel that bit further north, I doubt I could have afforded the ticket quoted by the online ticket resellers.
In fact, the total cost of my trip to Wolverhampton including ticket, travel, food and program came in at less than the online prices being quoted for Liverpool’s FA Cup match against Blackburn.
With the view that I’d rather go to any game than no game I got up earlier than I would have liked for a Saturday and went off to visit the home of one of the inaugural FA league one teams.
On the CrossCountry connection from Birmingham International to Wolverhampton a friend of mine called from Australia. He’s visiting the UK in May and wants desperately to see his first Premier League match.
His problem is that he arrives the day before the final game of the season so our options are limited. We discussed the logistics of a trip to Stoke, who Liverpool play the last game of the season.
I am pretty sure I can get tickets but as I pointed out to him they are unlikely to be in the away section (I’m a Liverpool international member and not eligible for tickets through the club, and the online market for away tickets is often double the asking price for the Blackburn match).
I explain to my friend that if he really wants to see Liverpool he will have to be prepared to sit in with the Stoke fans. The main thing I wanted to know was whether he could sit through a match without giving away his allegiance.
I’ve been to matches where away fans mix with the home fans but as I don’t know Stoke, the city or the stadium I suggested that to be safe we would have to do it low key.
My friend was genuinely surprised when I told him that if we did go to Stoke we probably shouldn’t wear any colours nor offer any vocal support. For Australians the idea of separated fans at sporting events is an alien concept.
Sure, we have an away end at local football matches where the actives do their thing, and attract a disproportionately high police presence, but the reality is that you can generally sit where you want.
At the time I didn’t know whether I was being anally retentive about our personal safety or displaying canny street sense. I haven’t been in the UK long enough to work that one out, but then along comes an incident like the one on Saturday and the answer doesn’t really matter.
According to media reports Nic and his mates were set upon by a gang of local youths in an unprovoked attack. CCTV images have been released of the attack and they don’t make for pretty viewing. At the time of writing the police are closing in on the suspects, with five of the attackers arrested. Disturbingly one is only 13 years old.
Whether the gang attack was by Wolves fans is yet to be revealed but it does appear that the attack was football motivated (i.e. they went looking for football fans), even if the gang themselves might not have been at the match.
This latest revelation is perhaps the most disturbing piece of this unpleasant puzzle. This attack wasn’t about one firm of idiots in pursuit of another. It wasn’t about football. It was about a pack of violent predators in search of prey. Any prey. It could have been me in that street. It could have been anyone who has ever gone off to an away fixture outside the comfort of the club organised coaches. It could have been you.
On Saturday, Watford management, players and fans put on a moving display of support for Nic. The club invited his family to the match against Reading as guests of honour. The players wore ‘For Nic’ shirts.
In the 44 minute of the match the fans released 44 yellow balloons while the stadium rang out with a minute’s applause and a rendition of a popular terrace chant. Although there are several accounts of the chant floating around, here is my edited version that I believe most fans of football will be able to relate to:
Football fan Nic he’s one of our own,
He’s one of our own,
He is one of our own,
Football fan Nic, he’s one of our own.
If you share the dismay at what happened to Nic please drop by the Nic Cruwys’ Future Football Fund and leave a comment or a donation. If you are religious please feel free to pray.
At the time of writing Nic is still listed as being in critical, but stable condition.