Watching football is not a crime

27/06/2014

39_fans1992Police searching fans outside PR in 1992. Photograph by David Jameson.

By Susan Gardiner, who would like to make it clear that she hasn’t asked the rest of the Turnstile Blues group what they think.

I’ve had two experiences of serious violence which involved football supporters. Neither was anything to do with Ipswich Town and both were a very long time ago, in the bad old days when football supporters were given a certain notoriety by the actions of a minority who were up for a fight. One was when I was a very small child and my mother and I were trapped in an underpass near Molineux with Wolves fans coming one way and Stoke City supporters coming straight towards them from the other direction. I was terrified and had to press myself against the rather insalubrious subway walls as they met and started to punch the living daylights out of one another, oblivious to my existence.The second time was as a teenager in North London, waiting for a bus at Finsbury Park, a bus that was unfortunately full of Spurs fans who, spotting some Arsenal supporters, smashed every single window in the double-decker, indiscriminately showering us all with broken glass. That was pretty scary too.

I wasn’t at the infamous Millwall game, or at Elland Road when Leeds fans behaved disgracefully and attacked Town fans. My only experience of trouble in Ipswich was when there was a fight in Princes Street after we thrashed an already-promoted Portsmouth. When I reached the station, I had the privilege of having 2p coins thrown at me by Pompey fans who were presumably trying to make some kind of point about us having been in administration. Oh the irony.

I write these things to demonstrate that I’m not completely without direct experience of violence, nor unconcerned by it. I have also, unfortunately, seen violence in other contexts: a fully-fledged riot in the academic library that I worked in (it’s a long story) and I was present when an 19-year-old student (a rugby fan, as it happens) was stabbed to death at a disco. As far as I know, the authorities have never imposed draconian measures on indie discos.

This may seem like a slightly OTT response to the announcement that the police – yet again – want to move our Derby game against Norwich City from Saturday, 23 August to the following day. I’m not going to be very badly inconvenienced by this personally. I live close to Ipswich and even though I’ll have to catch a rail replacement bus service into town, and not be able to have a civilized lunch at a civilized hour with my friends, my day won’t be entirely ruined. However, the alteration is going to make it difficult for people who have to travel some distance.

The justification for making the change and for the early start of 12 noon is to avoid any potential trouble between opposing groups of supporters. Having travelled to very nearly every home match at PR for thirteen years on the Norwich-Ipswich train, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced any trouble – or even much hostility. There’s been a bit of muttering, occasionally the word “scum” has been uttered (on both sides), but nobody died.

Let’s look at some facts: the most recent Home Office figures – full details can be found here – for banning orders, by club, show that in 2012/3 Norwich supporters received 10 as compared to Arsenal (59), Chelsea (110) and Cardiff City (121). In the Championship, only 6 of our fans received banning orders. Only three clubs had fewer: Reading (5), Watford (4) and Yeovil (1). Similarly, arrest figures (for 2012/3) show Norwich among the best behaved, with only 12 arrests and Town were Champions – well, I’m taking it as a win! Only four Town fans were arrested in that season (all at away matches), well below Blackpool’s 11. Of the four, only one was for “violent disorder,” another for “public disorder” and the other two were for “alcohol offences.”

I’m really proud of these statistics, and yet, instead of being rewarded for having such top fans, it seems that the local police, with the agreement of ITFC, are going to continue to regard us all as potential criminals. There is no reason, in my view, that this game cannot be held at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon with normal levels of policing.

It’s not just having the game moved. When I used to come down from Norwich, we were often corralled, along with Norwich fans, and led down to Portman Road by the police. I ended up taking the earliest possible train to try to avoid this. I’ve never been able to understand why, having never been as much as cautioned by the police in my life, I should be treated as a criminal, merely for wanting to watch my team.

The arguments about an earlier kick off time being a way of reducing alcohol consumption don’t stack up either. The last time I travelled to a match on the train from Lowestoft, yellow and blue shirts all together in the same carriage, several supporters were drinking from concealed litre bottles of vodka. It was a train that reached Ipswich at about 10.30am.

Restrictions on alcohol consumption only appear to apply to football supporters. If you’ve been to a Test match, you’ll be aware that many spectators do not confine themselves to consuming fizzy lemonade. I once saw someone being carried IN to Trent Bridge at 11 o’clock in the morning (there’d been rain). My experience of obnoxious behaviour by cricket fans has been far worse but I’ve never come across any organized policing strategy at a cricket match.

There were a total of 34 arrests during Royal Ascot this year, according to one report, although the BBC reported 29, as an improvement on the previous year when there were 50. Once again, I don’t imagine that Her Majesty and her chums will be subjected to any restrictions on how they can travel to and from the race course.

So why are football supporters treated differently from those attending other events? It’s an authoritarian society that treats innocent people as if they need to be controlled. Perhaps the police lack the staff levels or ITFC don’t want to pay for the policing (they didn’t last time we played Cardiff City, with their highest number of banning orders, which doesn’t strike me as very logical, to be honest), but it’s still not a justification for assuming the worst about what are, on the whole, a very well-behaved and good-natured group of people. I’m all for the police dealing with people who have committed an offence or have form – but this is not yet the society depicted in the film Minority Report where people are arrested and punished for “PreCrime.”

A final concern. There is a possibility that the police might one day impose what is known as a “Bubble” on travelling supporters. This means that fans are only allowed to travel to an away game on designated transport, normally club coaches, from specified pick up points and bussed straight to the ground. This happened a couple of years ago to that notorious firm Hull City AFC, when they played Huddersfield Town. It’s yet to happen to Chelsea fans, I believe. An attempt to impose one when Sunderland played Newcastle last year failed when both clubs refused to back the idea.

It’s clear that many Town fans don’t feel that this is such an important issue. It’s just moving a game to the next day, after all. Except that I don’t believe it is. It’s an authoritarian approach to managing largely law-abiding crowds. It’s ill thought out and quite frankly, lazy. Lazy in its assumptions about football supporters, lazy in its approach to dealing with football supporters and not tackling the problem of genuine offenders, lazy in the lack of consultation of supporters.

Watching football is not a crime.

n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at: http://www.fsf.org.uk/latest-news/view/fans-and-players-unite-against-bubble-match#sthash.b8FhOETP.dpuf
n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at: http://www.fsf.org.uk/latest-news/view/fans-and-players-unite-against-bubble-match#sthash.b8FhOETP.dpuf
n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at: http://www.fsf.org.uk/latest-news/view/fans-and-players-unite-against-bubble-match#sthash.b8FhOETP.dpuf

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Masculine Pursuits in Ipswich: Our Victorian Correspondent Writes

01/06/2014

Mr. Peregrine Cuttlefish at homeHere at Turnstile Blues we like to think that we present a different perspective on ITFC from that which you’ll find in the mainstream media. To keep up this tradition, we asked Mr. Peregrine Cuttlefish, society columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times from 1871 – 1903, to review this year’s Player Of The Year dinner and awards evening.

“It was a most welcome surprise to be invited to review the 2013-14 Ipswich Town Player Of The Year Awards evening via the medium of time travel. I had feared that my elaborate evening-wear and celebrated fulsome beard – quite the talk of the dinner-dance scene in late 19th century Woodbridge – might rather mark me out as a man out of place and time, but I was relieved to discover that a goodly proportion of the assembled gentlemen and players were also sporting fine sets of whiskers!

“The event was hosted by Mr Milton Simons, a jovial sort of a cove with a charmingly estuarine dialect. I am given to understand that Mr Simons had previously been an Ipswich Town player of some note himself, and much merriment was made of his shiny bald head. Mr Simons appeared to be suggesting that the primary culprit in this regard was some fellow called Banter, but I could see no record of such person amongst the list of guests.

“As the evening progressed, it was clear to note that many of the assembled company had attained a state of light-heartened relaxation. Several of the menfolk discarded their neckties and some even stepped out of their frock-coats. I was intrigued to observe the elaborate markings on the forearms of several of the Ipswich Town players. One can only assume it is a requirement of the modern factory that workers are required to ink themselves in company insignia, and can only be hoped that this does not interfere with the athletic regime of the amateur sportsman.

“It was a matter of some curiosity for the pan-temporal visitor to observe some of the customs of this strange modern era. There appeared to be a great deal of excitement around something called a ‘Chambers Fist-Pump’. Alas, your correspondent was unable to discern the precisions of this ritual, but we can perhaps safely assume that a gentleman’s chambers are no longer the stronghold of privacy that they once were. Such ‘Fist-Pumping’ may have become a necessity in this regard.

“One further noted the presence of a rangy young man by the name of Myrone Tings. Mr Tings was acting quite the philanthropist – tossing morsels of food from the windows to feed hungry-looking badgers, and organising a collection in aid of the local sailors’ refuge. It was a matter of some relief to this observer that Mr Tings was not a recipient of any award on the night. Whilst he may be a young man of most worthy character, such individuals are naturally prone to the giving of painfully long acceptance speeches.

“During the awarding of the prizes, there appeared to be quite the commotion around the antics of a well-fed looking fellow, who I was given to understand was a Club official of some sort. Said official had taken it upon himself to enliven the prize-givings with a colourful commentary of his own! Some lively chit-chat was observed as the gentleman loudly annotated the awards with what appeared, to this observer at least, to be some rather fruity observations about the recipients – including some noticeably odd comments about quantities of money allegedly being earned by each, which quite shocked the ears at such a gathering. A rather gruff-sounding Yorkshireman appeared to take a particularly dim view of the gentleman’s frivolity.

“I should say that it was most enlightening to spend some time in 2014 and to note the peculiarities of folk some decades distant from my own era. I will admit to my readers that by comparison to the assembled company, I did feel rather ‘senior’! But then I saw John Wark”.