In what was (I think) Leicester’s final season in the EPL we drew 1-1 with them away. Gilberto scored. I got very angry.
I was angry because I found myself being filmed by the police for no reason other than the fact that I was in the Arsenal section of the crowd. My view was that there was no reason for the police to film me, and certainly no right for the club to film me without warning me and having good reason to believe that a crime was liable to be committed.
After the game I wrote three times to the police and the club asking for an explanation of their action, detail of the legal framework in which they were operating, and a complete assurance that my pictures were not being held. They never replied, and I let it go.
Last season I got worked up again leaving the Cup match in Cardiff. The usual stream of fans were leaving the ground when a young copper with a camera came along not more than a foot behind an Arsenal fan, filming him. If it is possible to get aggressive with a camera, this copper was aggressive with a camera.
To my shame I didn’t take the matter up with South Wales Police, although I did make fun of the whole policing situation at that game in a scene in Making the Arsenal. It wasn’t much, but it helped me feel a bit better.
I have no legal background but I think this is what might be called “unwarranted intrusion” and as a citizen whose greatest crime against the state was driving with an insecure load in 1982 I really do object to it.
As such I am delighted to say that the Football Supporters Federation has fought long and hard on this issue. And in my own minor way I have covered it before, when the police started arresting Arsenal supporters at Tottenham on suspicion that they were about to cause an affray (the evidence being those damned red and white scarves).
You’ll also be able to read here and in many other places stories of the horrific treatment of Sunderland fans who were attacked by the police at a station, and who have never been able to clear their names despite seemingly widespread evidence that it was not they who were to blame.
As a piece in the Guardian said recently, “It’s clear that if we applied the laws and regulations that football supporters tolerate every Saturday to society in general we would have a very good idea of a dictatorial regime where individual rights count for nothing.”
The problem is that in football if you are accused as a supporter you are guilty by association – with football. Actions that mean nothing in the rest of life are cause to give you a criminal record and a banning order – including a ban on travel overseas, and all because of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 which the police have taken on with a vengence. It is in short a route to conviction without the proof that any offence has been committed. It also by-passes the Human Rights Act because you are not guilty of any offence.
The FSA has come up with a number of cases where police have issued vast numbers of “Section 27” orders under the Violent Crime Reduction Act to stop hundreds or thousands of fans attending a game. Manchester police are well known for this and have actually once apologised for their actions using Section 27.
Of course I have people say to me, “what does it matter that they’ve taken your photo if you’ve done nothing wrong?” My answer – which has nothing to do with football, but which is relevant since Section 27 is used in connection with my desire to attend numerous high-profile games each year – is that evidence, like laws, will always be misused. Take one simple case: so odd and bizarre that it looks impossible, but it is true. (And I have deliberately chosen an example which is both huge and as far from football as you can get, just to make my point about the dangers.)
The government felt that the Icelandic government should refund all the UK citizens who lost money through investing in Icelandic banks. The Icelandic government said no, it is not our responsibility, our laws clearly state that it is the responsibility of the investor to ensure that his/her investment is safe.
So the UK government seized the assets of Icelandic companies in the UK. This of course was wholly illegal, but the government made it legal by using the terrorism laws. In other words the UK declared that Iceland was a terrorist state, and so the UK could seize their assets.
I don’t think you ever need to have been to Iceland to know that Iceland is about as far from being a terror state as it is possible to be.
And what connects Iceland, banks, the terrorism act and football is this. The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is highly controversial but was pushed through parliament on the grounds that it would only be used against obvious terror-supporting “failed” states.
So, if you are still with me, my point is this. If the government is willing to use anti-terror laws in a wholly inappropriate way against a friendly nation, what chance do you or I have to get justice when the common practice is to get conviction without proof under the Football Disorder Act.
In my 20s I spent a year living in a state that had no right to free speech, and no democratic system. I learned to walk quietly with my head down, to dress neutrally, and to keep dead still when addressed by a police officer. Walking to a football ground is not as bad as that now, of course, but I long ago abandoned wearing the red and white when walking to an away ground. Just for my own safety.
(c) Tony Attwood 2010.
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