"HE LOST his cool totally at half-time and full-time ... he needs to control himself better." In the aftermath of a near-riot at the Cardiff CityvLeeds United third round FA Cup tie, the above statement seemed to be stating the obvious about the conduct of the Cardiff chairman, Sam Hammam.
The former Wimbledon chairman took up position behind one of the goalmouths towards the end of the match, encouraging his team’s notorious supporters to celebrate with complete abandon at a famous victory in the making. They didn’t need to be asked twice.
The mayhem that ensued, included the throwing of bottles at Leeds players, a pitch invasion, a baton charge from mounted police and officers with dogs, the referee being hit by a missile, and an attack on the Leeds coach. Then when a radio journalist had the cheek to ask Hammam for his response to the violence, he had a minidisc confiscated and was ejected from the ground.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this ugly episode is the fact that the above quote does not refer to Hammam losing control. They are Hammam’s own words, and they describe his interpretation of the behaviour of David O’Leary, the Leeds United manager.
Hammam had reacted with indignation when O’Leary approached him after the match to raise his concerns about the Cardiff chairman’s actions around the pitch perimeter. Yesterday, as his club were threatened with an FA Cup ban, Hammam was more concerned about chastising O’Leary than questioning his own behaviour.
Hammam was playing with fire at Ninian Park, where his actions were hardly likely to earn respect and admiration from Leeds United fans who have a long history of short fuses. But yesterday, he was quick to defend his right to parade around the pitch as "my tradition."
Just to confirm that he had no conception of public order, Hammam added by way of justification: "Taunting is part of the game."
The chairman said: "He [O’Leary] is saying he is not happy with me walking in front of fans, but this is something I do every game. I am entitled to do it and I have the written permission of the Football Association.
"But when we went 2-1 up I did not want to offend the Leeds fans and walked round the other way. If you are trying to cheer the crowd what is wrong with that - as long as I am not inciting violence, which I was not? I’m not aware that there was any danger for anyone, they really celebrated very well and they celebrated with me.
"There was no crowd invasion. There was a pitch celebration after the final whistle. This is a football tradition, and long may it continue. They came after the game to celebrate, and we want this to continue. Some of them started taunting the Leeds fans, but taunting is part of the game as well."
Hammam and O’Leary spoke by telephone yesterday, but the contact could not be said to have cleared the air.
"Sam said he had a letter giving him authority to walk around the pitch," said O’Leary. "Good luck to him, but I think it’s wrong. I don’t think he helped the atmosphere. A chairman shouldn’t do that."
Hammam begged to differ. "He [O’Leary] has a very good club and very good chairman, but he lost his cool totally at half-time and full-time and if he wants to be a top manager he needs to control himself better.
"He is a good manager, but to change from being a good manager to being a great manager - great people have the ability to take defeat with aplomb, like their chairman.
"David O’Leary is a young man but he has to combine football abilities with behaviour abilities. But I think he will now be a much better manager - you have to be humble. I think he has grown in stature as a manager."
Hammam’s own stature will be measured by the punishment meted out to his club by the FA and the FA of Wales, who are conducting a joint investigation into the disturbances at Ninian Park.
"This kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable," said an FA statement. One likely scenario is that the Welsh club will be banned from hosting FA Cup ties at Ninian Park.
Inexplicably, or perhaps predictably given his earlier rationale, Hammam reckoned this would be an appropriate sanction, despite having already claimed that nothing untoward had taken place.
"By far the most important thing is the integrity of the game, and really what we have to do is see what the FA have to say," said Hammam. "If we have done something guilty that requires ground closure, and it is in the game’s interest, then that is it."
Football needs characters, and no-one could deny that Hammam is one of the most colourful figures in British football, but on this occasion, he has made the dangerous mistake of believing he is bigger than the match itself.
Sadly, few will remember the name of Scott Young, who scored a sensational winning goal for the Second Division side to knock out one of the giants of the English game. If anyone should have been chaired off at the end of the match, it should have been Young, not a chairman who stole the limelight from his players.
Southend or Tranmere have the privilege of welcoming Hammam and his Cardiff circus in the fourth round of the cup. You sense the hatches are being battened down already in Essex and Merseyside.