By Tony Attwood
If clubs cannot control their fans, their stadiums should be closed proclaims the Telegraph
The rise of disorder at football: why is it happening and what can be done? asks the Guardian commenting on a “shocking rise in disorder”
Football arrests ‘highest in years’ & disorder on the rise – police announces the BBC website
Premier League and EFL launch urgent review over crowd trouble says Sky Sports
“Pitch invaders at Norwich, Leicester and Arsenal (more than once)” says publication after publication after publication.
The fact is that when major news outlets combine to say there is a problem, there is a problem. Either because they are reporting on a real problem, or because their reporting heightens a minor issue and turns it into something big. And that wholesale reuse of that “more than once” headline (of which more in a moment) strongly suggests media hysteria is a major factor here.
The Sky Sports piece tells us that “Premier League and EFL launch review into crowd trouble at football; disorder has increased across the board in 2021-22 compared to 2019-20 with incidents involving pyrotechnics up from 193 to 229, throwing of missiles up from 116 to 223 and hate crime reports in stadia up from 146 to 206”.
But of course, none of these reports put anything into perspective, because, well putting things into perspective is for namby-pamby wishy-washy liberals who like to undermine the wild and whacky proclamations of lazy journalists who love a story that is thrust in their faces without them having to do any work.
Certainly, on TV and in the newspapers, it looks like there is more of a problem but… I’ve attended every Arsenal home match this season including pre-season friendlies and have seen incidents of an individual getting on the pitch, but they were very minor. We have had some problems at the ground but when we did, not one reported them under an agreement between the media and the league.
But now, my friends who sit near the away fans say they have noticed there has been a considerable increase in problems with the away supporters. And my pals who go to away games, suggest that at certain grounds home fans outside the grounds lie in wait for them.
So is this just an away support problem? If it is, that is easy to deal with. Or is it confined to a few clubs? Again, there’s an easy solution. Simply take police reports and where there is a certain level of difficulty ban away fans. If it is the home fans causing a problem, cut the capacity in half – an action that would certainly make clubs sort out their problems very quickly.
And this is the point: the fact is that there are easy solutions. Where there are large gatherings of people there can be problems, and that is not the issue. The issue is the magnitude and regularity of the problems.
Look at the fact, take action, problems probably solved. If capacity at a ground is cut in half and problems continue, cut it in half again. If visiting supporters are banned from the ground, and problems continue that tells you something about who is causing the difficulty.
If the problem is with occasional match-goers, stop selling them tickets for a few matches, and then start again slowly, with warnings that anyone causing any problems at all will be banned for life. If it is away support causing the problem, cut the number of away supporters by 50%. If that works, slowly allow the number to rise, but with a warning, any more problems and this club will not be allowed away tickets at specific grounds.
But the fact is none of these simple, logical steps is taken. Why is that?
First, most clubs are losing money and so closing part of the ground would reduce their income. Money is after all more important than safety (at least in football).
Second, there is an agreement between TV companies and the clubs that the TV companies will not show crowd trouble unless it is on the pitch. Some fans know that and so they take their issues onto the pitch.
Third, and perhaps most important, one of the biggest culprits, perhaps the biggest culprit was the FA with the Euro finals, and it is against the agreement between the media and the FA for anything to be blamed on the FA. So the FA, who were clearly guilty on a mega-scale of gross incompetence at that match, are never blamed. And that is the fault of the mass media for ever agreeing to that arrangement.
“Pitch invaders at Norwich, Leicester and Arsenal (more than once).”
which seems really weird. Why pick those three clubs? I am not sure, but what I can tell you is that this headline then was repeated word for word in article after article: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here…
There is no doubt that there is violence at matches, and statistics from the UK football policing unit (UKFPU) say arrests have increased by 47% on the same period in the 2019-20 season. But the truth is, no one is asking why, and without that question being asked, it is impossible to know what action to take.
But what we can say is that it is more than likely that the abject failure to deal with the FA for its gross incompetence over the Euro final was a signal to those who like violence and feel law-breaking is ok, that football is now fair game. However, since the authorities cannot and will not consider themselves to blame, they will continue thrashing around blaming everyone other than themselves while bringing in more and more restrictive controls and making life worse for all of us. And it won’t help one bit.
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