By Sir Hardly Anyone
There is a growing concern among our friends in the Toppled Bollard public house – favoured watering hole of the journalistic elite, that there is not enough antagonism and divisiveness in football at the moment. Indeed, ever anxious to stoke up more nastiness, aggression, and ultimately violence Football.London, the website of Reach plc, which owns the Daily Mirror and countless other newspapers, came up with the inglorious headline
THE LEAGUE OF LOVE AND HATE
It was first used by the Newcastle Chronicle back in 2013 (the Chron being another publication owned by Reach plc – you’ll spot a theme running through this ) and by 2016 the Mirror was getting into the swing of re-running it each season. That Love and Hate theme was carried on for about four years, before the criticism of this lunatic stoking up of what was already a problem, caused it either to be dropped or at least given a lower profile.
The whole insane violence and aggression encouraging campaign is described as a way “for fans to say which club they supported and then which clubs they hated the most.”
And one might think that at a time in which the Telegraph is proclaiming “English football to launch social-media blitz targeting ‘idiots’ amid surge in crowd disorder” the Mirror and its co-publications might finally decide to let that particular idiotic “League of Love and Hate” scheme drop once and for all. But no, football.london has just proclaimed yet again, “Let us know which clubs you love to love, and love to hate!”
The problem however is that the traditional English way of dealing with statements and shows of hatred, anger and aggression is to respond in a similar manner. So we are promised a return to the 1970s with police with dogs prowling around the stadia. The fact that this response combined by a rabid media and made everything worse for years and years, is now forgotten.
But I guess that response is what a fair number of people will consider a suitable reply to stories such as “Sneer and loathing: which appeared in the Guardian.
The fact is that all we get is reactive behaviour – they do this so we have to do that, rather than anyone seriously considering why this is happening. For although football grounds have never been utterly peaceful places the level of crowd violence, aggression and disruptive behaviour diminished considerably after the 1970s. Now however it is back and we have headlines such as “Manchester City to support Phil Foden and his family after they were harassed, verbally abused and physically attacked while watching Kell Brook beat Amir Khan on Saturday night” in the Daily Mail.
Of course, the situation is never helped by screaming headlines about incompetence and inadequate performance, which the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday love to indulge in. A typical current example reads (and this is the whole headline with the capitals exactly as the Mail published them -although I’ve copied it in normal-sized type), it was published in HUGE lettering.
“IAN HERBERT: Man United’s season is still marooned on the rocks of inadequacy and Ronaldo knows it, while Maguire is not as popular a captain as the club would have people believe… and FAR tougher tests lie ahead than Leeds in Manic March”
Journalists and editors will always proclaim that they are not responsible for other people’s behaviour as a result of their readership taking in what they print, but the reality is that this sort of headline, along with what happens daily on Facebook and Twitter does nothing to make the UK a calmer place to live in.
Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time and it doesn’t happen everywhere. The Telegraph went the opposite way with “Arsenal’s new leader: Martin Odegaard is justifying his lofty expectations” as a full-scale headline while the Independent went with Arsenal display rare composure in sign of rapid progress under Arteta. Peace, calm and the admission of progress. What a breath of fresh air.
The problem is that the old offence of incitement to commit an offence is itself no longer itself an offence in England. Instead, we have Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 which contains three statutory offences of encouraging or assisting crime. I’m most certainly not a lawyer but I get the feeling that while the incitement act allowed the police to prosecute people in a crowd who were encouraging others to act illegally (for example by chanting or through stating in newspapers that such an event was being planned), this now seems harder to do. Maybe that’s a good thing as it protects civil liberties, and I’ll perhaps have that view until I get caught up in some violence after a game and am either knocked to the ground or arrested or both.
The reality however is that while for many years we have lived in a situation in which football matches and travel to and from football matches has been a relatively safe experience, that is not always the case now. And in contemplating this, what is never explored are the options. What is the best way to handle this situation – not in terms of what makes us feel better, but in terms of what actually reduces the chances of there being violence.
It’s all a bit of a mess.
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