Watching football is not a crime

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:
n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at:
n designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points. – See more at:


5 Responses to Watching football is not a crime

  1. Super Blue says:

    I attended the last home derby match and afterwards walked from the ground to the station to take the train home. Roughly outside the fire station there was a line of local yobs being restrained by the police from, as they probably saw it, getting at the visiting fans. I cannot remember whether that was the only trouble but I do remember it distinctly.
    I was involved in the supporters club 10 years ago or so and exchanged letters with the police in Norwich on the question of kick-off times and days for local derby matches. It occurred to me and I think I commented to a policeman that trouble such as that outside the fire station would mean that any future derby matches would be at antisocial times.
    Derby matches attract non-football fans who come along to make or see trouble. It is sad but true. Presumably the police can better prepare to deal with this on a Sunday early kick-off rather than Saturday afternoon.
    So while your various points are well made the reality I think is that until we get a sequence of matches with no trouble at all Sunday early kick-off’s and the like will be the norm.
    Yes and surprisingly that last derby match was a weekday evening kick-off but it is likely to be the last one for a while I fear.

  2. martin brooks says:

    Yes, lazy is what it is. Rather than properly fulfil their function of serving the community, it is far easier for the police to effectively sweep whatever small problem there is, and there is a small one, under a carpet of 12 noon kick-offs. The fact that they can do this season after season shows just how compliant we all actually are and how little of a threat to public order football supporters are. Perhaps the ‘new’ police commissioner might like to look at the issue. The most peculiar thing is, I remember going to 3 pm Ipswich v Norwich games back in the 70’s and 80’s when supposedly ‘football hooliganism’ was at its peak, so what’s changed? Could it be that the early kick off and the herding of spectators and the police helicopter etc etc create a problem through sheer hype where, with a positive spin none would exist?

  3. Thanks, Martin. Quite a few people have pointed out that they think that separating fans and herding them might have created more problems than it has solved. Interesting to hear that Derby games took place at 3pm on Saturdays back in the “bad olf days” too.

  4. emma corlett (@towncloseemma) says:

    I am saddened to learn that yet again the local derby between Ipswich and Norwich is at risk of being moved from 3pm on Saturday. As an Ipswich Town season ticket holder who has lived in Norwich since 1996 I have enjoyed trouble free pre and post derby match drinks together with both ipswich and norwich supporting friends, but have also been subjected to over zealous policing.

    In 1998 in a bar in Tombland I had my newly purchased drink poured out on the pavement by a police officer, and was forcibly “marched” to the ground. We were led outside the complete angler pub, and pelted with bottles and glasses, showered with glass and liquid. There was no room for me to move as the pavement was full. A mounted WPC kept shouting for us to get on the pavement. I tried to point out there was no room, but she cracked me across the back with her riding crop. In 1999 after the match I was forced by the police in to the train station and attempts were made to put me on a train back to Ipswich. It took a great deal of patient reasoning with a succession of police officers to persuade them that as I not only lived in Norwich, but paid my council tax here so was in fact paying for the privilege of being treated so poorly, that I was allowed to exit the train station.

    A few years later, myself and my norwich supporting partner had the tickets for all of our friends for the game at portman road. we stayed in ipswich the night before. Two of our norwich supporting friends got the train down on match day. they were questioned on the train and asked to show their tickets. They explained that we had their tickets, and were meeting us at the station. At ipswich they were refused permission to leave the station, were not allowed to contact us and were put on the next train back to norwich with a police escort. one lived at stowmarket – but he wasn’t even allowed to get off the train there – he had to go all the way back to norwich! both clubs refused to help after the event and no refund for the unused ticket was given. at the time we got quite a lot of coverage on radio five 606 when lofty out of eastenders was doing it!

    there are other examples, i could go on. ipswich fans – get off your knees! stop putting up with being treated like criminals when we are not

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