SJ MASKELL: If you hadn't noticed, football fans have brains...
By SJ Maskell
Wednesday 02 Nov 2011 09:03:00
Browse all SJ MASKELL articles




Welcome to the second part of SJ maskell's account of the FSa's recent 'Watching Football is not a Crime' event at the Rifle Club Portsmouth recently. To read Part One, click here


Fans pointed out that the feeling of surveillance is putting people off the game. Despite there being no disorder, this filming is often carried out overtly which raises the perception of the risk of trouble. It creates an element of risk because people are put on edge. Overt filming is a clear indication of the way football fans are perceived. In effect, fans are suspected of disorder even before the signs of it manifest themselves. The example of the game at Elland Road was raised.

Again, Supt Burrows claimed that overt filming works. ‘It deters disorder.’ He did feel that the filming at Leeds was disproportionate and has requested answers from West Yorkshire police about the situation. He said he would pass the answers on to be disseminated.

Yet again fans questioned the logic of claims that this tactic works. One fan said, ‘You can’t justify it when it’s used on fans who are doing absolutely nothing wrong. You can’t claim it works because of that.’ 

Another fan suggested, ‘Consciously or not, there is a reliance on them ‘just being football fans.’ The police perception of football fans was clearly shown, as someone pointed out, when one of the first things said in mitigation of police action against Ian Tomlinson at the G20 was, ‘He was wearing a Millwall shirt.’ The question was asked, ‘Are we citizens or are we football fans?’

At this point there was an interval during which it seemed as if Gene Hunt found a comfortable table and gathered the rest of his team close. With another round of drinks in, they began to listen intently. On the platform Sam Tyler whispered in the ear of their representatives. 



Police Intelligence


The second half contained a discussion on banning orders and there seemed to be a general agreement that they were often disproportionate and, after 25 years, well overdue for a review. However, in a discussion of incidents after the Carlisle cup tie last season, Supt. Burrows conceded that there was often partisanship at matches and the focus was always more heavily on the away fans. This he felt needed redressing and officers needed reminding to ‘face both ways’ when between sets of fans. He said ‘I think it is because they (away fans) are seen as a risk coming.’

This useful insight into the way fans are perceived was added to by Alan Kerslake, ‘Arrests tend to be away fans … home fans can be targeted at a later date … that’s a fact, how it is.’ Police opinion from the floor was that, ‘you don’t go to prison if you don’t do anything wrong.’

Fans were willing to concede that police work was not all bad work. Bob Beech praised the officer in charge of the SOS protest march back in 2009 for preventing police filming when it was clear that such filming was creating the likelihood of disorder among protesters. Supt Burrows explained that Hampshire police take a lighter stance on filming to other forces. However, it has to be asked why that photographer even started filming and pointed out that this was an organised protest march that just happened to contain football fans. It must have caused the police some effort of definition in the light of the differences in policing the two that emerged from this meeting.

Barrister Alex Gask opined that using police photography ‘when people are doing nothing wrong is disproportionate and it is unlawful to keep such materials. If it is in your face it verges on criminal harassment.’ Supt Burrows assured us that all such material was ‘bagged and tagged’ and destroyed if not needed. He explained three categories of photographic material. If it is evidence it is extracted for court, if it is intelligence it’s kept for a certain amount of time, if not it’s binned. He did not explain what criteria are used to make the recorded evidence ‘intelligence’.

From the floor police opinion was that there was a need to ‘bring a little bit of reality to things … there’s cameras running (here) … we live in a society where we are continually being filmed. Nobody takes it home and puts it on the internet, it is destroyed … it’s not secret, it’s just the world we live in I’m afraid.’

Working with Fans

Amanda Jacks of the FSF picked up on the positive comments fans were making about the police to say that dialogue and communication were the key. She asked if fans had been consulted about the bubble.

Mr Stone, PFC’s operations manager, responded that, ‘We want to work closely to keep supporters safe. I have a duty of care to everyone at the stadium that they go home safe. We care about supporters, away supporters, it’s not about restricting them.’ He continued that with up to 21,000 people with different views and opinions, trying to get everyone to agree was impossible.

This caused a number of fans to ask if Mr Stone had tried to do so.

He replied, ‘We have tried. There’s all sorts of things in place to try and get the supporters’ view, but our priority is to keep people safe. I wouldn’t sleep at night if people couldn’t get to my stadium in safety and go home in safety. That is where I am coming from – why we have gone to police and to Southampton and there is a genuine fear that if we don’t do what we are doing they can’t guarantee that. Only a few people who have a different agenda don’t actually support that.’

Amanda Jacks said, ‘I am suggesting you get supporters in to encourage a dialogue – fans are not the problem they are part of the solution. That’s lost sight of.’

Alan Kerslake added that, ‘Dialogue is essential – first thing we (Cardiff City) did was get the fans groups in when we had problems at Stoke. Told them about what Staffs police wanted, weeks of discussions. Even now we have a fans forum first. There is one on now to discuss the Leeds game. You must discuss it with the fans and you must seek their view and you must take on board what they want as well as what we want and the police. No one can tell the fans how to travel. The fans must buy into it … you must consider their feelings.’

Jo Collins, of the Pompey Supporters Trust, asked Supt Burrows and Mr Stone if they were both aware of the fans’ conference. They replied that they would be happy to attend the conference if invited.

Jo then asked, ‘If you are aware of it did it occur to you to actually approach them about this very point?’

Mr Stone’s reply took this form: ‘The bubble … (long silence) Police, Southampton and Portsmouth Football Club looked at all the issues, looked at all the concerns, looked at what’s happened previously, and, as I said, we have a duty of care to everybody, home and away supporters. The bottom line is …. We have a duty of care to make sure that all our supporters, home and away, get to the club safely and go home safely. We have to look at that and make a judgement based on everything that comes in, the intelligence around that particular match. I have 20,000 supporters that can come to my stadium and they all have differing views, and if you look around the room tonight, 30 – 40 people all have differing views and I cannot …  it’s impossible for me to actually take into account 20,000 people with differing views. We have to look at it on a risk basis of police intelligence and the bottom line is … safety.’

Alan Kerslake intervened to explain the ideas behind elected fan representation. He didn’t understand why they can’t be consulted. He said, ‘If you was to talk to the fans it might be easier for the fans to accept … no dialogue, they find it difficult to understand. If you talk to the fans they have their opinion. It’s very important to help them to accept… we’ve done 30 years work on it. We didn’t consult early, but we have learned.’

Fans suggested that it would have been helpful to consult to avoid making the same mistakes. ‘You never know, they might agree with you anyway.’

Mr Stone responded that if we were to canvas 20,000 people in our stadium. 15,000 would have no idea what has gone on in the past around the disorder, wouldn’t know that there has been an issue   … which brought about a great deal of laughter from fans.

Barry Dewing of PISA said it was time to ‘give fans credit for having brains.’

I can’t be sure but here Gene Hunt seemed to bury his head in his hands. Members of his team were already asleep, their faces resting in the puddles of beer on the table top. Read Part 3 of SJ Maskell's account on Thursday November 4. Part 1 can be read here




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