Shameful scenes scar St Andrew's
St Andrew's, Birmingham
Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron and David Beckham were outlining the vision for England's future in Fifa's Zurich hotel at the very moment the game was being dragged back into the dark ages in Birmingham.
With desperate timing, as England's 2018 World Cup bid team were putting the finishing touches to their pitch ahead of what they hope will be a momentous day, a grim echo of the past was unfolding at the conclusion of the Carling Cup quarter-final between Birmingham City and Aston Villa at St Andrew's.
The high-powered team, lobbying late into the night to persuade Fifa's voters of England's merits as a country to which they can entrust the future of their showpiece, will have shuddered at the images that would have been flashed to Switzerland.
Images from a bygone age - or so we thought.
A mass pitch invasion, confrontational scenes, seats ripped out of stands and massed ranks of police standing between two sets of supporters.
If England's opponents in the race for 2018 needed one final piece of ammunition to use against them, the shameful events that unfolded in Birmingham provided it.
If there is scant consolation to be taken, in a World Cup context at least, from a thoroughly depressing conclusion to Birmingham's 2-1 win, then it is that it may have come just too late to have a defining impact on Fifa's deliberations.
Police hold back the fans. Photo: AFP
And, it should be noted, the 500 West Midlands Police on duty in and around St Andrew's - four times the normal number and a very visible presence - did a magnificent job in threatening and hostile circumstances to keep a lid on an explosive situation before restoring order.
The Football Association was also on the scene, with a crowd control advisor in St Andrew's able to make a swift assessment of what had taken place and a spokesman on hand to condemn the trouble, call for action and confirm a full investigation would be undertaken, starting on Thursday morning.
This will hopefully be noted as a sign of speed and efficiency in not just dealing with the immediate problem but also the aftermath.
Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish was quick to condemn the behaviour of hundreds of his team's supporters, who greeted Chris Foy's final whistle with a headlong dash across St Andrew's to taunt the disappointed Villa fans.
The climate surrounding this fixture is one of potential trouble but, in an age when crowd violence is mercifully rare in England, it was still a shock to witness this mindless throwback to the past.
McLeish said: "It was pretty horrible. It was from the dark ages."
No-one was about to argue with him.
For a few worrying minutes, there appeared serious potential for a major incidents to develop. Birmingham and Villa's players had barely heard the last whistle before they were having to dash off the pitch to escape the advancing, threatening mob.
The pitch intruders came in all shapes and sizes, including one woman who raced on accompanied by her young family before realising this was not simply a scene of celebration but one of potential violence and unrest.
It was subdued relatively quickly, thanks to the prompt actions and courage of police and stewards, but the damage was done and those in and around Zurich who do not have England's best interests at heart may wish to make belated capital from it.
Zigic fires the winner to put Birmingham through to the Carling Cup semi-finals.Photo: Getty Images
Birmingham City will launch their own inquiry, in conjunction with the police and FA, but it is impossible to see how they can escape sanctions. Villa may also pay the price for damage done to the stadium by their supporters.
It was a miserable night, the sort of night we thought we had seen the last of and one that overshadowed Birmingham's achievement in reaching the Carling Cup semi-final and moving closer to only the second major trophy in their history.
There was sympathy for both managers. Sympathy for McLeish because the moment of triumph was scarred by their own supporters. Sympathy for his counterpart Gerard Houllier because he will feel Villa arguably deserved more from this game.
Villa looked the more composed side in possession but the lack of killer instinct betrayed them. Birmingham may have been on the back foot for long periods but they created the better openings.
Sebastian Larsson put them ahead from the spot and Nikola Zigic thought he had added second when Villa keeper Brad Friedel allowed his shot to squirm over the line. As Birmingham claimed the goal, they were frustrated by the linesman's flag, although not as frustrated as they were when Gabriel Agbonlahor equalised seconds later.
And then came the late twist. Zigic, who had looked out of his depth for long periods and was under fire from his own fans, made himself a hero with a bundled late finish as McLeish was pondering his removal from the action.
It should have been the catalyst for celebration for Birmingham. Instead, it was the signal for shame as those who broke on to the pitch sabotaged the game's reputation.
In the interests of balance, it should be stated that the vast majority of supporters were well behaved, while many Birmingham fans jeered their fellow supporters when they realised the damage they were causing to the image of their club and English football.
It is to be hoped this damage is limited by the work of the police and ground authorities as well as the prompt action of the FA and Birmingham in opening their inquiries.
What cannot be denied, however, is that this was a night English football did not need as it tries to present its acceptable face to the world in Zurich ahead of the 2018 vote.