Ugly scenes as Preston steward trampled by horse. The FA must act now

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Last night in the first round of the Capital One Cup local rivals Preston and Blackpool battled it out, literally, at Deepdale.

The atmosphere was bubbling throughout the contest and when Preston’s Tom Clarke scored a late winner, pandemonium broke loose.

League One side Preston celebrated the cup win against Championship team Blackpool like they’d won the competition. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what it’s all about. Passion, glory, rivalry.

But at the final whistle, things got ugly very quickly.

Hundreds of Preston fans streamed onto the pitch to taunt Blackpool’s 4,000 traveling supporters congregated at one end of the stadium. Then the police tried to intervene as more of the 17,000 plus fans tried to get onto the field of play.

That’s when one unlucky safety steward found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A fan he was trying to move off the pitch pushed him and he fell. The steward was then trampled on by a huge police horse and was hospitalized with shoulder and chest injuries.

While all this was going on, players of both Blackpool and Preston were trying desperately to get back to the the tunnel and the locker rooms.

Blackpool’s manager, former Liverpool, Manchester United, Inter Milan and England midfielder Paul Ince, was not happy at all.

It’s an absolute joke. Who knows what could happen? It’s going to take someone to get stabbed or something else to happen before we’re going to listen. I wonder if there are enough stewards there. You see enough situations in football where fans are hitting a player. We sit down at these management meetings and talk about these respect campaigns, but what about getting enough stewards to control people? Who are the stewards anyway? Are they Preston fans? If they are they shouldn’t be stewards. They just let people run on the pitch. It’s not just Preston – it’s football in general. We need to knuckle down because you can’t have fans running on the pitch. I don’t care whether they win, lose or draw.

Ince has got a point, the man is clearly talking sense. In the American sporting arena we often see fans of college basketball rush the court if their team has completed a huge upset win.

But in English soccer this has become a huge problem over the past few years. In a Yorkshire derby last season, a Leeds United fan ran on the pitch and punched Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland in the face. And plenty more instances like this happen in the lower leagues, week in, week out.

source: Getty ImagesLast weekend fans of beleaguered club Coventry City walked on the pitch and headed to the bench, protesting about the clubs perilous financial situation. The list goes on and on.

Will the soccer authorities do something about it before it’s too late? At many grounds fans sit extremely close to all the action, and with no safety fences or real obstacles to get onto the pitch, anyone can do it. This is no an indictment on English society, but there’s a definite knife culture within the country. What if one individual takes it upon themselves, like Ince said, to stab or harm a player? There’s no protection for that.

I’m not quite sure what the answer to this is. More policing is probably the best method against these kinds of outbreaks. You don’t want to take anything away from the experience, passion and excitement at soccer grounds. But the players must be safe.

Fans running onto the pitch, in a jovial mood or not, has to stop. Now.

LIVE, FA Cup semifinal: Chelsea v. Southampton

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Chelsea and Southampton clash in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday (10 a.m. ET kick off) for the right to play Manchester United in the final on May 19.

[ LIVE: Updates from Wembley ]

Antonio Conte led Chelsea to the FA Cup final last season but they lost to Arsenal. Even though the Blues are up against it to finish in the top four in the league, winning the cup would be a big success for Conte.

Saints haven’t made a cup semifinal since 2003 when they lost to Arsenal in the final. Mark Hughes‘ side are entrenched in the relegation zone and have a bigger challenge than making the final.

[ MORE: Minute-by-minute on Chelsea v Saints

Click on the links above to follow the action live, while we will have reaction and analysis live from Wembley right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Arrests made after violent soccer riot in South Africa

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DURBAN, South Africa (AP) Police say two people have been arrested and more arrests are imminent after a violent riot at a South African soccer game on Saturday night, when hundreds of fans ripped up parts of the stadium, invaded the field, and seriously assaulted at least one security guard.

Players had to run for the safety of the dressing rooms as the fans swept onto the field soon after the final whistle.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Police responded with stun grenades to disperse the rioters, and television pictures showed riot police storming the field and a white armored police vehicle racing across the edge of the pitch.

South African Police Services spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala on Sunday confirmed the arrests and said the two people were facing charges of public violence and malicious damage to property.

The violence mainly by Kaizer Chiefs fans followed their team’s 2-0 loss to Free State Stars in the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup competition at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the east coast city of Durban, one of the stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup.

In the most disturbing scenes, a female security guard was set upon by a group of supporters on the field. She lay on the ground as they hit her with plastic chairs. A man then kicked her twice in the head. After the second kick she lay motionless and face down on the grass.

Police spokeswoman Gwala did not say if anyone had died in the violence, saying police had no information yet from stadium or medical authorities on any deaths.

Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela resigned after the game.

“Emotional” Mertesacker: Send Wenger off “with a cup”

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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.

The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:

“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.

“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.

“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”

The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?

Watch Live: Arsenal-West Ham, Stoke-Burnley

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The Premier League has a pair of 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday kickoffs for us this morning, including one of Arsene Wenger‘s final matches at Arsenal.

There’s a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners look to stay fresh for Atletico Madrid and the Hammers aim to firm up their Premier League status for next season (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson. Aubameyang.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Masuaku, Kouyate, Noble, Fernandes, Mario, Arnautovic. Subs: Adrian, Cullen, Evra, Lanzini, Hugill, Carroll, Chicharito.


Stoke City’s climb out of the relegation zone will have to overcome Burnley’s desires for a Top Six place, as the Clarets can pass sixth place Arsenal with a win and a Gunners loss to West Ham (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Bauer, Allen, Badou, Shaqiri; Crouch, Diouf. Subs: Haugaard, Zouma, Ireland, Cameron, Fletcher, Ramadan, Campbell.

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Long, Tarkowski, Ward, Lennon, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Vokes, Hendrick, Walters, Bardsley.