Bending logic in the name of safety and security

Stewards at White Hart Lane AA 4710323

FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks has had some ridiculous cases across her desk recently - many seeing fans inconvenienced and let down by football clubs all in the name of safety and security. She tells us more about this trend... 

Football will never be truly fan friendly until it stops treating supporters like potential public order problems rather than the law abiding people the over whelming majority are.

I open with a caveat to make it clear that I’m fully aware that out of the millions and millions of us who attend football matches each season there are, proportionally, a very small number whose behaviour will lead to either an ejection or arrest.

As it always has done and always will, football is reflection of society yet fans are still treated as a breed apart.

In recent weeks, I’ve had some interesting cases across my desk, all of which reinforce the idea that football clubs don’t recognise supporters as legitimate, valued customers rather a homogenous group of people that have the potential to pose a threat to safety and security.

  • A gentlemen describing himself as retired and elderly tried in vain to purchase a ticket for an FA Cup Third Round fixture. While he’d visited this club several times before, because he didn’t live in the same county as the home club, the club refused point blank to even consider the idea of allowing him a ticket because, as the Club Secretary emphasised, he posed a “real threat” and “security measures” could not be argued with
  • A lifelong Sunderland supporter drove 250 miles to take his six-year-old son to his first ever game at the Stadium of Light to see his team take on Manchester United. Because he had no history of buying tickets, he was unable to legitimately buy tickets due to measures put in place to stop away fans buying tickets in the home end.
  • A group of fans, all respectable law abiding people, travelled to the North West for a League 2 away fixture which was called off at short notice. Rather than waste their day, they travelled to a Premier League ground to enjoy a match there. Midway through buying tickets, they mentioned who they supported. The sale was cancelled and the group denied entry. On following this up with the club, I was told that safety and security is paramount and could not be compromised nor their safety certificate threatened in any way.
  • Via twitter, I was told of a fan ejected from Stamford Bridge for not celebrating a goal. He protested he was neutral to no avail.
  • Supporters, who were searched before boarding an official club coach arrived at an away ground after a journey of 100+ miles were amazed to be told they couldn’t leave the coach until it was searched for Improvised Explosive Devices. Fans bags were searched, but not baggage racks and toilets.  If there was a real concern that supporters had smuggled IEDs (as if!) onto the coach why then was it allowed to travel half way across the country and park in a residential area, outside a football stadium? A question I’m yet to get an answer too but I am told there will be changes to the searching regime.
  • Another club will only allow supporters to board their coaches with sealed bottles of drink.
  • FSF Chairman Malcolm Clarke was told he was not allowed into Old Trafford with his flask of hot coffee.

I’d like to think the above are extreme examples and perhaps they are, but at the other end of the scale, it’s ironic, isn’t it, that you can buy a hot drink with a lid but not a bottle of juice or water?

If you want to take a flag over a certain size into a ground, you’ll have several hurdles to jump over including ensuring your flag has a fire certificate.

One of the reasons for the fire certificate, I’ve been told anecdotally, is that a fan objecting to the flag may attempt to set fire to it. That a hot drink has a lid and a cold one doesn’t is for ‘health and safety’. Logical, but most fans would agree that the real reason they can’t be trusted with a bottle with a lid is because they may use it as a missile.

They may also use the hot drink as well, but no club would take the step to ban hot drinks on those grounds making the removal of lids from cold drinks irrational and disproportionate.

Security concerns of course take on an added dimension in these troubling times and to have a reasonable expectation that a football club, indeed any venue take steps to ensure safety is something we all take for granted.

I am aware that I am venturing into the realms of conflating two separate issues here, but my concern is – highlighted by the ludicrous search for IEDs – is that in the name of preventing terrorist attacks, football fans may be subjected to more impositions than they would if attending another event attracting hundreds or thousands of people. I hope I’m wrong.

By the same token, football clubs in general need to acknowledge that the vast majority of fans attending matches in their stadiums are going to behave despite security measures and the presence of heavy duty response teams and not because of them and treat them accordingly.

Rules (such as not selling to those without a purchase history) imposed on an ad-hoc basis need to have a degree of flexibility about them; clubs need to appreciate that fans will sometimes attend as neutrals not because they want to start a riot, but simply because, notwithstanding their support of their own team, they enjoy watching live football. And this is particularly relevant of clubs known to attract ‘football tourists’ from around the world.

Any measures imposed on supporters need to be because they’ve been decided on after a per match, comprehensive risk assessment and not generically decided upon (bottle top removal) or because somebody threw a coin in 2001 or there was a fight in 1978 and far more importantly not “just because these are football fans we’re dealing with here”.

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 Action Images for the picture used in this blog.