By Tony Attwood
Commander BJ Harrington, of the Metropolitan Police, one of the police’s most senior football match officers has been talking about the difficulties of keeping law and order outside the Tax Payers Stadium.
He did this in giving evidence to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, saying, “If you are intent on disorder, you can move around the stadium. Most stadia in London have natural segregation; streets, buildings etc. A large space is very hard to segregate because there are no natural barriers. Plus, it’s still a novelty to come to the London Stadium and people are coming to cause disorder.”
Whilst still unacceptable, the disorder, in comparison with other areas in London, has not been not significant except at the Chelsea game.”There were six arrests at the Chelsea match and 18 in total at the stadium this season – nine of whom were supporters of State Aid United.
That number (which is the number that Karren Brady the State Aid Utd spokesperson quotes, now being referred to as Ms Copper, given that her increasingly outrageous statements are becoming akin to that of Evelyn Waugh’s character from “Scoop”) is however a little misleading because more fans were arrested after CCTV footage was reviewed. This took up the number to 27, and it is curious that the numbers are being kept apart, since most figures on disorder pull them together.
That is more logical since the source of the information about the arrest is not relevant – only the arrest is relevant.Ms Brady, who has long suggested that the move to the Tax Payers Stadium has been the most successful move of any club to any stadium, has regularly called any issue that has arisen a “teething problem” and has started to quote comparative figures.
For example she recently said, “We are coming up to the halfway point of the season and there have been 18 arrests at matches. At Arsenal last season there were 60.”That sounds quite alarming, and as you will know if you are a regular reader, Untold does like to probe into facts and figures and work out exactly what figures mean. We call it looking at the evidence. A rather old fashioned concept, but it keeps me out of the pub and off the streets.
Thus the numbers might not be all they are stacked up to be. But let’s try and find out.First we must note two points. You would normally expect fewer arrests at grounds with fewer spectators. Second, just as criminals learn where they can commit a crime, so the police learn that a little later. Numbers of arrests in all new stadia take a while to rise, not because no crime is being committed, but because it takes the police time to organise their response tactics. This has been a particular problem at the State Aid Stadium because of the multiple exits, and the disputes between the club and the authorities over who has to pay for what.
In terms of total arrests for last season there were indeed 60 at Arsenal – a figure beaten only by Millwall that got 69 – interesting because the crowds at Millwall are much smaller (the highest was 16,000 and the lowest 2,000).
Now for an arrest to be counted “at Arsenal” it has to be in the ground or in the concourses immediately around the ground or in the walkway from Arsenal station to the ground (which is shut off to traffic). At the State Aid Stadium they only count those in the ground.
To compare with others last season, there were 30 at Chelsea, 22 at Palace, 37 at Tottenham, 46 at West Ham. Given at West Ham, Tottenham and Palace had a much smaller ground than Arsenal for the season, their arrest numbers per 1000 people are fairly similar with West Ham coming out as the place a person is most likely to get arrested.
These figures as given by Ms Brady thus suggest that there has been a total and dramatic collapse in the number of arrests since West Ham moved from Upton Park to the Tax Payers Stadium. A huge decline made all the more remarkable given that the new stadium is much bigger and there appears to be more problems.
The answer to this conundrum is that like is not being compared to like. She is comparing figures in and around the stadium last season with those in the stadium this season. A clever trick, but not very helpful. But rather State Aid.
Of course arrests can be for different things, and if we take “public disorder” across last season there were 26 at Arsenal, 14 at Chelsea, 15 at Tottenham and 26 at West Ham. Again taking into account that Upton Park was a much smaller ground than the Emirates, it means there is more public disorder at West Ham matches than at games at the Ems.
Another interesting analysis comes between home and away fans. At Arsenal there were 31 arrests of home fans and 27 of away fans, which means that the number of arrests of away fans was disproportionately high, given the small number of away fans in the stadium. At the much smaller West Ham ground last season it was 26 home fans and 20 away.
Incidentally, on the issue that exercises me much of the time when we discuss fan behaviour, the arrests for possession of pyrotechnics was pathetic: two. How many did we see last season, and how many this?
Now that gives us quite a clue as to what is going on. The police are deciding when and how to arrest people, and (certainly in the very obvious example of pyrotechnics) the level of arrest compared to the level of easily observable criminal activity is around 2%.
Which emphasises that arrests is not a very reliable source of information for arrests appear to have little to do with public disorder and a lot to do with the issues that the police and the club feel like dealing with.
As Dr Gillian Evans observed in her book on the subject, “studying the Olympic legacy is suddenly beginning to feel a bit like watching a surreal game, in which serious-minded people are trying desperately to construct a new piece of city on top of a merry-go-round that turns violently with each change in the political landscape.” And she said that without taking the statistical manipulations of Ms Brady.
As West Ham moved from Upton Park and became State Aid United playing the Tax Payers Stadium, so they took on a ground that was not built for football supporters, with approaches that were never intended for football supporters.
Many clubs face this problem of course – just try and get into the stations at Arsenal, Finsbury Park or Highbury and Islington after a game, it is fairly chaotic, but seriously managed. The management is much harder at the Tax Payers Stadium because of its design. Seemingly no one ever thought about that before it was handed over.
From the Arsenal History Society
“Making the Arsenal” and “Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed history” are available both via Kindle and in paperback. For the Kindle editions please go straight to the Kindle shop, for paperback editions and more information about the books please click here.
“ARSENAL: The Long Sleep 1953-1970” by John Sowman; foreword by Bob Wilson is now available to purchase on line as book or Kindle version at