Police patrols to defend footballers from pitch battles
A BOYS football league has called in police patrols to protect players as young as seven after a pitched battle involving stick-wielding youths last week. Somers Town were playing against Lyndhurst at the Market Road pitches in the Camden and
A BOYS' football league has called in police patrols to protect players as young as seven after a pitched battle involving stick-wielding youths last week.
Somers Town were playing against Lyndhurst at the Market Road pitches in the Camden and Islington Under-15s League last Friday night when all hell broke loose just after 9pm.
A gang of 50 teenagers arrived at the pitches in Holloway, some armed with sticks, and laid into a member of one of the teams.
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Mike Powell, from Hampstead Garden Suburb, who runs Hampstead Football Club, said it was an assault waiting to happen.
He said: "Our under-14s were meant to be playing at the time - but we couldn't get a team together because of the school holiday. Luckily they weren't.
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"It was an extremely unpleasant incident - but I am not surprised. This has been waiting to happen.
"Gangs of drunken teenagers hang around the pitches at night and it is very unpleasant."
When police arrived at the scene, the fight had broken up. But one child, believed to be the focus of the attack, received minor injuries. None of the children wanted the police to press charges.
England and Chelsea star Joe Cole learned his skills in the league, which sees 1,700 boys and girls aged between seven and 15 play on Monday and Friday nights.
Demina Connor, who is in charge, has now called for extra police presence, particularly during school holidays.
She said: "From what I understand, it was to do with one player on one of the teams. It was a gang of youths not associated with the league in any way.
"I was not happy for the games to go ahead without assurances about further security from the police or the council.
"Although it is nothing to do with the league, I don't want it to happen again. I have to ensure the safety of the players."
On Monday night, two park keepers with dogs patrolled the pitches during the games. And on Friday, there will be five police officers from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team.
The league also introduced a code of conduct for teams because of the threatening behaviour of some players.
Some teams were forfeiting games because players and parents were being abused and threatened by some young players.
Ms Connor said: "We will not tolerate any violence. If there is, the team will be called in and may be suspended or it may be refused acceptance to the league for the following season."
Mr Powell said: "I don't want to pull out of the league even though it is dangerous as it would put our kids on the street, which is no good.
"We have kids from Hampstead, Camden and Kentish Town - it couldn't be more diverse."