Football vs racing: what can we learn?

Goodwood PA 32537557

You may have seen news about serious disorder at Goodwood Races last weekend - with many quick to draw comparisons to how football fans would be painted in such scenarios. Here our caseworker Amanda Jacks looks at what football can learn from how race-goers are treated...

Horse Racing is the second largest spectator sport in the country - the BBC reporting in March 2016 that “up to six million” people attend race courses each year.

I’m not one of them. Beyond having a few mates who are as passionate about racing as they are about football, the closest I’ve come to racegoers is sharing a train carriage earlier this year with a load blokes in flat caps off to Newbury enjoying an early morning can of Guinness and being at Waterloo station alongside men and women dressed up to the nines off to Ascot. I’ve also seen their return and suffice to say it was obvious that a very good day out was had by all

Over the years, I’ve seen reports in the tabloids telling tales of drunkenness and debauchery (and the odd fist fight) at meetings at the larger courses such as Cheltenham, Aintree, Chester and Ascot.

We also see anecdotal reports of similar on social media, the common theme being "I’ve seen worse behaviour at the races than I ever have at football!"

Not being a fan of horse racing I can’t fairly comment beyond saying, like football fans, race goers are ultimately a reflection of wider society. Whenever you have an exceptionally large gathering of people, many of whom will have been drinking for long periods the pragmatist may say that a degree of trouble is sadly inevitable.

Like countless others quick to bring it to my attention on twitter, I’ve seen the horrendous footage of a particularly brutal fight at Goodwood last Saturday. The scenes are genuinely sickening and I only hope that those injured make a full recovery, and those responsible are properly dealt with via the Criminal Justice System.

The theme accompanying tweets invariably was “imagine if this was football, it would be on the front pages” with many calling for Race Meeting Banning Orders, equivalent to Football Banning Orders.

Those that compare the media coverage have a point. While the racing element picked up on the story quickly, it took mainstream media longer with reports only appearing up to two or three days later despite the footage of the fighting being widely circulated on social media soon after the incident.

By comparison to what the police have to say about football related disorder, the response from Sussex Police was muted and confined to asking for witnesses to the “altercation”.

It should though be pointed out that the police have been present at football matches but weren’t at Goodwood. Even so, it’s an interesting to look at their various comments and compare them.

Both football and racing are open to all and affordable to many. Both attract large crowds with over a quarter of a million people visiting Cheltenham over the four days this year.

You can go to football or racing as a family group or with your mates and have a reasonable expectation that you’ll be kept safe by the event management.

The overwhelming majority of racing and football fans are well behaved and never come to the attention of police or stewards. Of course there are obvious differences between racing and football but in terms of attending either as an event the fundamentals are the same.

Given the legitimate comparisons, what I find interesting is that while football is the dominant spectator sport in this country the all round narrative is very different.

Indeed, at least one presenter of a high profile radio show blamed, with absolutely no foundation whatsoever, “football hooligans” on the violence at Goodwood. It’s not the first time I’ve seen or heard “football fans” blamed for certain behaviour at the races or even cricket.

You may well be forgiven for thinking we live in an otherwise utopian society where anti-social behaviour and disorder is exclusive to football so when it happens elsewhere in sport, the only answer is to point the finger of blame back to it. Which is, of course, ill-informed and disparaging nonsense.

How the world of racing deals with certain behaviour is not the business of the FSF but I’m not overly inclined to join the calls for ‘racing banning orders’. In fact, if anything, I think perhaps football could look at the world of racing for lessons in how to manage it’s fans.

One of my aforementioned mates is Steve Armstrong from Manchester United's United We Stand fanzine - I asked him for his thoughts on how he’s treated at a race course compared to football.

"I’d say that racing is very much less in your face and intimidating in terms of policing and stewarding," Steve said. "The authorities expect people to behave and have a good time at racing whereas at football their mindset is to expect the opposite.

"However, the dickheads infiltrating racing and spoiling it is worrying. It will only be a matter of time before sanctions start getting imposed."

I’d very much hope that what happened at Goodwood is not viewed as an existential threat to public order at the races in the same way football disorder and violence was.

If Steve’s predications are right, rather than look to football to learn how to manage the minority that can’t behave, the police shouldn't start treating racing fans how football fans can sometimes be treated and that racing safety teams put proportionate measures in place that don’t treat all those they admit onto the courses as potential public order problems. Which we've unfortunately seen with football fans, particularly away fans.

Dickheads are dickheads whether they’re in a club on a Friday night, a pub on a Saturday lunch time, a race course or football stadium.

Those responsible for dealing with such behaviour should be more than capable of differentiating the non-dickheads and whatever the context, the behaviour of a minority shouldn’t mean draconian conditions imposed on the majority.

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: 

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to PA Images for the picture used in this blog.