Football fans and violence

This blog was written for Tattooed Football site.

According to 2011/12 figures, arrests of football fans are down 24% from last season.

The Football Supporters Federation welcomed this news saying, “The overall picture is a very positive one”. Indeed, the total number of arrests stood at just 2,363 – a decrease of 726 from 2010/11. 74% of all matches passed without a single arrest.

Whilst the footballing world welcomed these latest statistics as proof that the football thug image no longer applies, I wasn’t so sure. The flip side of these statistics show us a side of the game that we are perhaps less comfortable talking about.

Try this at home…Flip every figure from the Football Supporters Federation’s press release on its head. For example, when they say 74% of matches saw no arrests, think that you have a 1 in 4 chance of going to a match and an arrest being made.

When they say there has been a fall in the number of banning orders think that despite over 3,000 banning orders being issued in 2010/11 – which you would have assumed would have got rid of a significant chunk of the problem offenders – a further 2,750 banning orders were issued in 2011/12.

Indeed, only through the twisted logic of comparing ourselves to our unacceptable past, could we consider the ‘overall picture’ to be a good one. Almost all types off offences are down year on year, but down from an unacceptably high starting point. It is the equivalent of saying, a clinically obese man is healthy if he has lost a few pounds year on year. He is still fat and football still has a problem with violence.

To be clear, I think the game has moved on, especially when we think back to the problems of the 1980’s. Stadiums are now often family friendly places with little or no violence. We should welcome this. But, let’s not get complacent. Football matches still attract violence, aggression and criminality in a way that other public events do not.

As a peace loving football fan, it is not a nice thing to be associated with, but it is something that we all have to face up to in a way rugby or cricket fans don’t. Terraces can be aggressive and unpleasant places to be.

Have you ever tried to find crime statistics for rugby, or cricket? I did for this article and I couldn’t find any. We can make an educated guess to why this is!

The problems are of course not evenly spread – if you are a Forest Green Rovers fan for example, you can pat yourself on the back and go and eat one of your veggie burgers as there were no arrests made at FGR last season!

The problems increase greatly if you follow a premiership club – especially Manchester United, Manchester City or Liverpool who topped the offending charts. This is of course partially explained through fan numbers. Although interestingly Fulham had less arrests than Wrexham or Newport County!

However you look at the problem of violence, alcohol or racist chanting at football matches though, it is still there. You can chose to look at it through a rose tinted lens but the ugly truth remains. Whether we are talking about organised fights outside Ibrox or pub brawls in Birmingham, 2012 has shown us that there is still an ugly side to the game. This needs to be faced up to. Not spun into a false sense of security.

Of course, the blame for these problems is not totally on the doorstep of the football fan. Part of the problem is with the police who were described in a recent Football Supporters Federation report as at times being “disproportionate, overly aggressive and indiscriminate”. Fans are often labelled as hooligans for simply wearing their team’s colours. They face prejudice and discrimination and this needs to be tackled as it plays into a spiral of the problems.

Looking positively though, there are some good examples of police forces mixing with the fans before, during and after matches. A new ‘interactive’ form of policing have been trialled by West Midlands police that involved as little as 25 officers attending Birmingham City games. Early results from this trial have shown a 30% reduction in arrest rates.

The challenge for football as a whole is to face up to these challenges without playing into the ‘negative stereotype’ that drives so much public and media discourse of football fans being violent thugs – most of us are not!

We are not all knuckle dragging Neanderthals unable to control our emotions, but there are some. To tackle this problem we have to keep things in perspective and welcome positive examples of policing. What we cannot and should not do, is pretend that football has miraculously fixed itself – we are a long way from seeing the family friendly football that most of use want to see.

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