By Tony Attwood
There is little that excites the media more than crowd trouble at football matches – and the event of a fan being arrested after appearing to attack a Nottingham Forest player during the Cup match at their ground was no exception.
And an analysis of the numbers in the Telegraph suggests what they call an “increasingly worrying regression” into the old days of crowd violence associated with matches.
The statistics back this up, showing around a fifty percent increase in football-related arrests this season compared with pre-pandemic times.
However, this doesn’t seem to be a return to the 1970s, which I am old enough to recall in which the fighting was often organised in the sense that (for example) a group of away fans would deliberately aim to “take” a section of a ground used by vociferous home supporters.
But Professor Geoff Pearson of the law department at the University of Manchester is quoted as saying that all the reports he gets show this is an upturn in “antisocial behaviour and low-level disorder rather than organised fighting.”
And he goes on to explain why, suggesting, “The fan profiles look quite different to the start of 2020.”
Certainly, at Arsenal, it is now easier than it has been since the 1980s to get a ticket for a game, and so the number of people who are there match after match has declined. And as we all know, season ticket holders don’t run on the pitch.
As ever in such discussions TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter all get a share of the blame, as they make it easier to share reports and photos of activities. Such reporting seems to invite certain types of personality to join in with what is going on nearby, and not miss out on what one’s friends are talking about.
But there is another factor that I think is being lost in this, although the Telegraph does touch on it, where it reports that all clubs have lost experienced stewarding staff during the last few years. “Stewards who had been stood there for 10 years are suddenly gone and potentially replaced by someone who has never been to a football match trying to manage a particular section.”
However, I think it is much worse than this.
At the start of the season, I wrote several times about the appalling scenes that I witnessed trying to gain access to Arsenal Stadium for the opening home game. These scenes were caused entirely by the stewards and their new system of bag checking.
Illegally and idiotically the new stewarding company employed by Arsenal arranged for bag checks to be carried out at the top of the flight of stairs that runs beside the main club shop, ignoring the fact that public events cannot be held in such a way as to mean that there is queuing on stairs.
Stewards were seen running around, shouting at people, even pushing fans, while no one was able to answer any questions.
Worse, I complained to Arsenal about this illegal and irresponsible behaviour, both through the supporters’ group of which I am a member and personally, and had no reply or explanation.
Arsenal did change their stewarding sub-contractors and matters did calm down in subsequent games but there was no apology at all from Arsenal, and it is quite clear that the checks that were supposed to be carried out were still being done by untrained staff all the way through the season. Indeed I recently pointed out that when I mistakenly showed my car insurance instead of my covid pass at a steward, he happily waved me through.
Of course, this is not just an Arsenal problem nor is it just a problem in England. Indeed some of the events reported from around Europe are far worse than anything I have seen this season.
But the fact remains that Arsenal did employ a group of people as stewards, and let them get on with their own organisation, without any oversight beforehand and without having the decency to apologise after.
That is really not a good sign and that attitude by the club was probably reflected in the way they dealt with other people.
The feeling generally is that this will all calm down as the regulars at the game return to their seats, and maybe that will happen, but the chaos revealed within Arsenal’s own ability to organise a match, combined with the notion that it will all blow over, hardly gives one confidence.
Arsenal play in the city where the Uefa final was chaotically organised and where the organisers have once more accepted no blame for their gross incompetence. And now the country is talking about putting a bid in for another international tournament under the aegis of the same organisation that allowed the chaos to happen last time – the FA. And no one is raising an eyebrow.
There is something seriously wrong here.
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