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.