Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Ba Brawl

Sit on your chairs, don't throw them...

West Ham's calamitous season endured another dose of ignominy last night after police were called to investigate disturbances that erupted after players were confronted by supporters at the club's end-of-season awards dinner at London's Grosvenor House Hotel. Two police cars arrived at the scene in London’s Park Lane after trouble flared at the event, where fans had paid up to £3,500 for a table of ten. Scott Parker swept the board for awards, but the evening will be remembered for all the wrong reasons after the unsightly brawl.

There were suggestions last night that the violence was sparked when Demba Ba, the Senegal striker, refused to sign autographs when asked by supporters. This prompted an angry reaction, with other players, including Manuel da Costa and Danny Gabbidon, confronted in the ensuing mêlée. Witnesses claimed that tables were overturned and chairs thrown before fighting then broke out when security staff attempted to control the situation. It was claimed a group of fans duly ran out of the hotel, pursued by security guards, while the event’s MC, the television presenter Ben Shephard, tried in vain to calm the storm, jumping on stage to beg those involved, "Please sit on your seats don't throw them."

An eyewitness at the £275-per-head event - just 24 hours after the club was relegated from the Premier League - said: "The players had just eaten their first course and there was a little interval. One fan walked past Demba Ba and said, 'Can I have your autograph?' Ba turned round and said, 'I'm too tired'. That triggered the mayhem. The fan went berserk and told Ba, 'I pay £60,000 a year for a box at this shit club, I'm not going anywhere.' He started shouting and screaming at Ba, hurling all sorts of racist insults at him - and Ba looked like he was about to lash out when Danny Gabbidon separated them."

A second witness confirmed: "There were a couple of supporters who were asking Demba Ba for his autograph. But he turned round and said he was too tired. The fans said they were season-ticket holders and didn't deserve to be spoken to like that. Then it all kicked off. A table was tipped over and security men raced into the room - it was chaos. Within moments, police were all over the place. Everyone was there, including the club's owners David Gold and David Sullivan. Sullivan was furious and screaming, 'Why did this happen after everything we've just been through?' It was a pathetic sight and left everybody feeling ashamed."

However, Ba, signed from Hoffenheim during the January transfer window, today rejected those suggestions. "I did sign the autograph. I never refuse to sign autograph to the fans," the 25-year-old posted on his Twitter account. "He came to me saying he is tired to watch us play and was looking for confrontation." Speaking this afternoon on Talksport, Ba reiterated: "I signed his autograph, then he asked me, nicely, how I was feeling. I said I was tired from the Wigan game because it was a tough game. He said he was tired of watching us play every week. I was surprised, and explained it to [Manuel] Da Costa, pointing out who had said it. But when the guy saw me talking to Da Costa he was screaming, all over the place. All of a sudden he starts screaming at me, like crazy. He kept on screaming and some players dragged me away and tried to calm him down. He was smashing some tables, it was crazy. He started insulting me, and my team mates came between us. [Danny] Gabbidon came and said 'Demba, sit down'."

Ba was then pressed on the nature of the abuse and claimed that the fan racially abused him. "To tell you the truth, with his accent I didn't understand everything he said, you can hear I'm not speaking English perfectly, but the people next to me said he was saying racist stuff," he said. "Gabbidon heard what he was saying and came over, and he started abusing Gabbidon as well. I was surprised because if you ask anybody they will tell you I'm a calm guy. I won't fight, I will always find a way to talk to people. When I saw it in the newspaper I didn't realise a story could be changed like that."

Police and security staff restored control as some fans dashed out of the hotel and disappeared into the Park Lane crowds, pursued by stewards. A hotel worker claimed one of the 'yobs' kung-fu kicked over a vintage vase while others ran amok in the hotel's luxurious dining room. But a security source at West Ham warned: "We know exactly who they are, and they won't be getting away with this." Supporters were able to get into the bash because the club were unable to shift tables at the original going rate of up to £4,000. Instead, prices plunged to a more affordable £700, allowing punters the chance to vent their fury at the underachieving players.

Trouble apparently flared once the club's co-owner David Gold had delivered a speech in which he had pledged the team's stay in the Championship would be brief after relegation was confirmed at Wigan Athletic on Sunday. Actors from EastEnders and The Bill then tried to put on straight faces when they presented Scott Parker with an award after the fighting had stopped.

David Sullivan was alleged to have spoken to the supporters in an attempt to calm the situation. He subsequently confirmed that a drunken supporter sparked the brawl by racially abusing a player. "The whole incident has been blown out of all proportion," Sullivan told Sky Sports News. "It was one individual that had too much to drink, sadly a problem in British society. A player was racially abused by the same drunken supporter which is totally unacceptable. Sadly one drunken supporter has let the club down."

Yet another onlooker revealed: "I don’t know what the player said but the fella he was talking to was livid. It all seemed to happen near the tables hosted by this demolition firm. I’m not sure where it started but a few tables got caught up in things and it escalated from there. Centre half Danny Gabbidon was getting involved but I don’t think they realised who they were messing with. There were some big lumps on those tables and the players picked the wrong people to argue with. To some of the players it seemed like it was a chore to be there and they couldn’t wait to get home. You would have thought they’d have been a bit more circumspect given the sort of season we’ve had."

The demolition contractor was Squibb Group, whose family owners are life-long West Ham fans. A spokesman for the company told the Construction Enquirer: "While an incident on a nearby table did result in one of the chairs at the Squibb Group table being knocked over, Squibb Group employees, representatives and guests were not involved in the incident. In fact, to apologise for the disturbance caused to the Squibb Group table, the hotel did not charge the Squibb Group for its drinks."

West Ham players had been instructed to attend the event, which attracted 750 guests, and warned by letter they would face a fine of a week's wages if they failed to comply, although Carlton Cole and Robert Green were excused - Cole because of a neck injury and goalkeeper Green because his wife is due to give birth at any time. A source said: "The players knew something like this would happen. After everything that has gone on it was only always going to kick off with the fans in a situation like this." The players quickly made their escape out of the hotel's back exits.

The Metropolitan Police confirmed they were called to investigate an incident at around 9.15pm last night. "Officers attended the scene but no obvious or serious offences were alleged," said a Met spokesman. "The situation calmed down very quickly." No one was available for comment from the Grosvenor House Hotel. A West Ham spokesman described the incident as a "minor disturbance that was over very quickly", and added that "more than 800 guests had a great time." It was the second annual dinner to raise money for West Ham's famous Academy.


SlimBobby said...

Oh happy days... always classy West Ham! Seriously though, if you're going to put disgruntled fans with the freshly relegated players of their club in a room together, with alcohol, wouldn't you anticipate a problem?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your effort. I always wait to read your summary of events because you always seem to have more detail than anybody else.


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