Hates football, ignorant of your town, wishes they weren't there - say hello to your matchday copper!

watching football is not a crime logo ball and chain4

FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks picks apart Constable Chaos' blog on policing football fans:

Due to the nature of my job, I’ve met several senior match commanders and shadowed the policing operation of many matches. I’ve attended pre-match briefings and the message to officers actually policing the game is invariably one I find hard to fault.

Only half of all matches actually have police in attendance and many forces recognise that the majority of games are actually community events and should be policed as such.  Indeed, I’ve heard requests from officers to wear ‘riot gear’ refused by their commanding officer on the grounds that there will rarely be an immediate need and that it sets the wrong tone for the policing operation.

Independent academic studies - see the work of Dr Geoff Pearson and Dr Clifford Stott - show that a dialogue approach to policing fans can increase both officers’ knowledge of the crowd they are policing and the perception of the police’s legitimacy amongst match-goers, reducing the risk of widespread disorders.  They should be required reading for those who police football.

The problem with football policing can, on occasion, be the attitude of the officers on-the-ground rather than the senior officers who command them. Of course, many officers carry out their footballing duties with a positive approach which can impact on behaviour but supporters do experience more negative attitudes too.

This can be for many reasons summed up in this blog written by an officer under the pseudonym Constable Chaos. I don’t think his views are necessarily representative of all police officers any more than one blogger is representative of all fans, but anecdotal evidence would suggest he’s not alone in his opinions. 

football "hooligans"The blog uses startling images of hooliganism (left) but, to the best of my knowledge, they were all taken abroad and some time ago. That’s not to excuse violence but last season, out of 38 million match-going fans, just 356 were arrested for violent disorder. (See more - "Home Office: Football arrests are lowest on record")

His opening poem suggests the author is a rugby fan with a disdain towards football and some of its supporters.  Throw into the mix his irritation of having to be on duty at all and how do you think he’s going to police those fans? Probably not with a smile on his face…

It would appear that nobody responsible for this match considered the danger of bringing in kitted-up Police Support Unit (PSU) with no knowledge of football culture or the town they were about to work in. Both were mentioned in a briefing but dismissed by Constable Chaos as “waffle, waffle, blah, blah”.

Constable Chaos also speculates that police may be “stoned, bricked, glassed”. I would not deny that police may be injured in the line of duty, but thankfully those instances are incredibly rare. Human rights are mentioned in the briefing, and perhaps the importance of those, together with the ideal of policing by consent, should have been given more credence, instead of the extremely unlikely idea that the police were going to be “beaten to a pulp”.

I found it telling that, when patrolling the town, PC Chaos notes that the early morning shoppers, apparently out to avoid “football hooligans…trashing the fine town” question the number of officers on duty. Surely if his fears were realistic, those same shoppers, presumably well used to supporters, would be thanking the police for their presence?

One of Constable Chaos’ matchday duties is to escort “risk” fans arriving at the station to the one pub that will allow them in. Despite his cynicism at the operation, he doesn’t question the information that around half of the travelling fans are risk.

No mention of whether he tried to speak with any of the fans he was escorting, although I do agree with him that an escort does little more than legitimise the idea among some of those being escorted that they are indeed “hooligans” and gives some the security to behave less than desirably.

In my view an escort can be counterproductive as it enhances tensions, sets an unhelpful tone, reinforces stereotypes and achieves little. An alternative to an escort is the police ascertaining the real risk fans, rather than treating a large group en masse as potential trouble makers, and issuing them with dispersal notices in accordance with guidelines. (The FSF is monitoring the use of dispersal notices in a football context to ensure that their use is appropriate and lawful.)

These alleged risk fans may well be “hooligans” intent on other activities beyond a good day out, there may well have been intelligence that the home fans were out looking for their rivals and there was a genuine and realistic fear of widespread disorder. If that was the case, the police were within their powers to escort and keep these supporters in a pub.

But if not, then civil liberties may well have been infringed. It also appears to be a classic case of policing on reputation (deserved or not) rather than behaviour. There is a certain irony, isn’t there, in the police attempting to reduce the threat of (alcohol-related) disorder by holding fans in a pub? Clearly the tactic didn’t work because there was disorder outside the stadium and “running battles” into the evening, although there was no mention of the number of arrests made.

Constable Chaos asks, given the amount of money in football, should the taxpayer have to keep on forking out tens of thousands of pound to deal with a problem the game itself can’t get under control? Now, I may not always agree with the strictly punitive approach taken by clubs and the courts, but the game does do what it can to prevent troublemakers attending matches as, of course, do the courts when they issue Football Banning Orders.

Football also contributions millions of pounds to the Treasury and pays for the policing of the “footprint” of its ground. Perhaps Constable Chaos might like to look a little closer to home and ask how certain resource intensive policing methods simultaneously escalate costs and fail to weed out real hooligans from the much larger group of law-abiding match-goers.

Watching Football Is Not A Crime! is part of the FSF's ongoing drive to monitor the police in their dealings with football fans and work with them to ensure that all fans are treated fairly and within the law. You can contact FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks via: