Front-page newspaper headlines screaming "Footie yob terror is back" and "The English disease returns" beg two immediate questions. One, did it ever really go away? And two, have we really been hurled back in time in the space of 48 hours to the grim days of the 1980s, when going to a football match could regularly be regarded as a genuinely troubling experience?
Without downplaying the gravity of either the shocking, bloody violence in the Millwall end at Wembley or scenes of Newcastle United fans clashing with police in the city centre after their humiliating defeat by Sunderland, the answer to both questions must be no.
Part of the reason that last weekend's events seemed so shocking was that they remain, thankfully, comparatively rare. Aided by banning orders, improved CCTV and a much more sophisticated and collaborative approach to policing football, isolated outbreaks of violence have tended to remain relatively contained. Yet, equally, every football fan will know that they exist – and remain a live possibility wherever alcohol and adrenaline mix.
The sense of shock was particularly acute as far as Millwall were concerned, as television cameras showed the bloodied, twisted, hate-filled faces of those involved in the fracas with each other and the police – estimated by those present as numbering up to 50 of the 32,000 Millwall contingent – and the tears and distress of those, including children, caught up in it.
Analysis of arrest figures from other Tyne-Wear derbies of recent years shows that the number of arrests in Newcastle on Sunday – 29 at the last count – is roughly in line with previous years, even if they did feature a misguided and ridiculous assault on a police horse. Some questioned whether the trouble in Newcastle would have been as high profile for the media were it not for the live images beamed into living rooms around the world from Wembley the previous day.
At the same time, there clearly are issues. Locals report a worrying phenomenon whereby fans who cannot get or afford a ticket tend to watch the match in city centre pubs before marching on the ground to confront away fans. The city council will surely have to answer more questions over licensing laws that allow some bars to open from 9am.
The Football Supporters' Federation pointed to figures on Monday that showed three-quarters of matches last season had no arrests at all and more than half of all games now take place without a police presence of any kind.
That is a long way from the rivers of urine, crumbling terraces, massed terrace charges and travel bans of the grim mid-1980s. During the 2011-12 season there was an average of less than one arrest made inside or outside the stadium at each professional and international match in England and Wales.
Yet the figures from last weekend tell a different story. In addition to the 14 arrests at Wembley and 29 in Newcastle, British Transport Police reported 36 football related arrests on the railways while an Everton fan was stabbed by what he claimed was a Queens Park Rangers fan minutes after their match at Goodison Park ended.
It seems reasonable to ask whether they represent an unfortunately freakish confluence of events or a stark warning that football-related disorder is back on the rise.
The fear everyone involved in the game must be twofold: that in perception terms alone it will set back two decades of hard work in persuading the population at large that football fans represent a cross section of society like any other (good and bad), and that it will somehow catalyse a chain reaction whereby associating violence with football somehow becomes fashionable again.
On a day when thousands gathered at Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 football fans killed at Hillsborough 24 years ago, illuminating a very different side to football fandom, it was also a reminder that it was the popular image of "footie yobs" that allowed the establishment lies that were perpetrated in the wake of the disaster to take such persuasive root in the popular imagination.
The FSF chief executive, Kevin Miles, while condemning the violent scenes, pleaded for some proportion. Miles was hopeful that police wouldnot overreact but some fans will be concerned that scenes will lead to a return to the more overtly aggressive police tactics of previous years.
"The scenes within the ground at Wembley and in the streets of Newcastle that have featured so prominently in the media this weekend are shameful," he said. "Genuine football fans abhor that kind of violence and it has no place in the game. We do, however, need to keep it in proportion.
"The situation around football is dramatically improved, both in terms of behaviour and policing. I see no reason to change tack from a policing approach that has brought about such improvements over the last 15 years. Arrest figures as reported by the Home Office every year have shown a consistent downward trend and it is a tiny proportion of those attending matches at any level of the game."
Andy Holt, the recently appointed deputy chief constable of South Yorkshire police, who is the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on football, said on Monday that while the problem of hooliganism had been effectively contained but had not gone away, his over-riding concern was also to not overreact. "We don't want to go back to having confrontations between police and fans. What I don't want to do is overreact to the very real problems we've had this weekend," said Holt. "It is too soon to say if this is an emerging trend, but we will review what happened at the weekend and make any changes if they are necessary."
The Premier League era – with its glossy wrapper, all-seat stadiums, sometimes eye-watering prices and more comfortable "customer experience" – has immeasurably improved safety and security inside grounds, while altering the demographic make-up of crowds. Yet the reports from eyewitnesses that the violence in the Millwall end was fuelled by drink and drugs, exacerbated by the late kick-off time that allowed for an afternoon's drinking, also ring true for anyone who has experienced a big "away day".
Whether this weekend proves to be an aberration in a longer-term trend of declining arrests and safer stadiums or the beginning of a return to the bad old days remains to be seen. But for all sides – police, football authorities and fans' groups – it will act as a sobering reminder that complacency is not an option.