On Friday, British Transport Police (BTP) convened a “summit” to address football related disorder, anti-social and racist behaviour by fans on the rail network. Here our caseworker Amanda Jacks responds to claims that thuggish behaviour from football fans is widespread on British trains...
The BTP's summit was covered extensively by the media with BTP Chief Constable Paul Crowther announcing that "casual, thuggish behaviour happens weekly on trains across the country" and encouraging people to tell all about their experiences.
BTP tweeted that rail passengers reported fan behaviour as a "national disgrace". All of this was reported slavishly with no context or perspective given, so allow me to do just that.
There are no readily available current figures detailing just how many football-related journeys take place across the rail network on a matchday, but in 2006 the Rail Safety and Standards Board commissioned research which calculated approximately 4.3m journeys occur each season. There is no reason to think that this figure would have fluctuated too much since then.
On BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today news programme, during an interview ahead of the summit, Chief Constable Crowther stated that so far this season around 600 football-related incidents (he neither expanded on or was pressed on what comprised an incident) had been reported with 10-11% of those carrying a "racial element".
A couple of days before BTP had released figures stating that in 2014 there were 1,468 reported incidents of racially or religiously aggravated 'outbursts' but this figure was not further broken down to show how many involved football supporters.
When the 2013-14 football-arrest statistics were released last autumn, they actually showed a downward trend, again something that nobody in the media reported on meaning it was left to us to cover.
I sit on a Rail Forum attended by all train operating companies, the Premier League, Football League and BTP. At the last meeting in January, BTP provided an overview of football disorder between July and December 2014 containing figures that I’m not at liberty to disclose but what I can say is that they are, in comparison to the number of journeys made by supporters, very, very low with several downward trends.
Of course nobody would deny that on occasion supporters can and do behave appallingly but given the furore on Friday, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the travelling public behave impeccably at all times, which is simply not the case as anybody who uses public transport can probably testify too.
It should also be considered that there is a vast difference between committing an arrestable offence and being involved in an 'incident'. No doubt BTP would have been more explicit in reporting 600 reports of criminality were that the real picture, and if it is, then ask yourself why the football-related arrests are not higher and why more arrests aren’t being made?
Given the figures above, you could also ask yourself: Is fan behaviour really so much of an issue on our public transport? Would constructive dialogue and imaginative thinking with supporter groups in managing behaviour be more helpful than yet more demonising of football fans?
Watching Football Is Not A Crime! is part of the FSF's ongoing drive to monitor the police in their dealings with football fans and work with them to ensure that all fans are treated fairly and within the law. You can contact FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks via:
Thanks to Elliot Brown for the image used here. Reproduced under CC license.