West Ham violence: Christian chaplain steps in to rescue family

Paul Sanderson (R) was pictured helping a woman and child as violence broke out at a Manchester United v West Ham match.Reuters

A Christian academy chaplain features in a 'Good Samaritan' photograph which has dominated both front and back pages in the UK.

Paul Sanderson MBE, who is chaplain at the Littlehampton Academy in West Sussex and a former youth worker, was pictured coming to the rescue of strangers during a spate of football-related violence in East London.

He was with other fans preparing for West Ham United's Premier League match with Manchester United, which was the last ever game to be played at the team's Upton Park stadium.

He told Christian Today he and his son had arrived early to the game to soak up the pre-match atmosphere. "My son and I are season ticket holders, and we went to the game early and had our usual pre-match curry," he said. "We went to where some crowds were gathering, and it was all good-natured stuff; people blowing bubbles, throwing cabbages around – it was a great buzz."

However, he continued: "Suddenly we realised that there were no police around. I thought to myself: you knew this was going to happen; the last game at the ground. Why are there no police?" He said that slowly, the atmosphere began to change as first the West Ham team bus came into view, and subsequently the bus carrying the Manchester United team.

Sanderson and another man protected the woman and child from flying glass.Reuters

"There were lots of people around our bus, and a good vibe, but then you could feel things change; this chant started to come, people saying 'United are coming now, let's do something.' We were caught in the middle of this, and I started to be on edge."

Some supporters began to attack the Manchester United bus, including with glass bottles. Suddenly Sanderson noticed a mother and child who had somehow found themselves innocently caught in the crossfire. "I could see families trying to cross the road to get away from this," he said, "and this lady was there with her boy, and he was visibly upset and crying. He started to have a panic attack, so I went into chaplain mode and started talking to him; just trying to calm him down.

"I realised that we weren't safe where we were, so I said to my son and a couple of others, let's put our arms around them; better that we get hit by a bit of broken glass than them. And me and this other guy – I don't know who he was – ended up guiding her out of this chaos; we ended up walking right through the no-mans land between the riot police and the chaos. We got her into a side road, and they got out to safety."

When asked why he put himself in a dangerous situation, Sanderson simply said: "She didn't need to be there, and I was there – I looked around and thought, this is not right, this is not good; It was a moment where I saw that something needed to be done, because this family didn't need to be there."

A photograph of Sanderson and the other fan, helping the un-named pair to safety, became the predominant image of the night. No-one is reported to have been seriously injured, but major questions will now be asked of the football clubs involved, the fans, and the police.

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders

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