'Tis the season to be jolly…but not too jolly if you’re a football fan

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Christmas is nearly here which means more football and, for many, more booze. While alcohol is often part of fans' football culture it's important supporters are aware of the legislation surrounding alcohol and football (even if we don't agree with it all). FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks explains more below.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, ‘tis the season to be jolly… but not too jolly if you’re a football fan! There is raft of legislation around football supporters and alcohol and, unfortunately, we see a lot of fans unintentionally falling foul of the law.

For instance, it’s illegal to drink on a minibus or coach to (or from) a game, illegal to drink in view of the pitch, illegal to take alcohol into a stadium, and illegal to enter a stadium drunk.

Train companies can insist trains are “dry”, sneak booze on board and you could be in trouble. If you’re travelling by coach to a game and stop on the way the Traffic Commissioner’s guidelines even state that alcohol can only be drunk if you’re eating a ‘substantial’ meal!

While we don’t agree with these laws we’d rather fans were aware of what could happen as the consequences of not knowing can be serious.

Earlier this season we provided legal representation for a 24-year-old fan, from the north-west, who’d travelled to London to support his team. We’ll call him John. On the way down John drank six pints over the course of the day - it was a late afternoon kick off - but vehemently denies being drunk.

Nonetheless, that John was a decent and respectable man with a clean recorded counted for nothing when police spotted him on the concourse, decided he was drunk and arrested him.

He was offered the use of a solicitor by the police but declined. Big mistake!

Always, always accept this offer, it’s free and the solicitor is unconnected to the police. John was taken to a local station and not released until 5pm the following day. That’s almost 24 hours in police custody.

However, he wasn’t charged at the time and had to travel back to London at a later date to discover his fate. Bail conditions were draconian – he couldn’t attend any football match and a Football Banning Order (FBO) was on the table. John also had to make a third visit back to London for his court hearing.

While John escaped an FBO, he was advised to plead guilty, simply because he’d admitted in his statement that he’d had a drink and that was deemed an admission of guilt. John was fined £180 and now has a criminal record for entering a stadium while drunk.

So, the moral of the story is this - while statistically the chances of you being arrested for an alcohol-related offence over Christmas are relatively low, you could still be ejected or find yourself turned away at the turnstiles, or even prevented from travelling on your train home.

Neither stewards nor police will breathalyse you if you’re suspected of being drunk, it is entirely at their discretion and, trust me, it’s very, very difficult to appeal that decision.

There is a debate to be had about the legislation around football and alcohol, and perhaps even if prosecutions such as John’s are in the public interest, but that’s for next year. But please remember that getting a criminal record can have an adverse impact on many aspects of your life, from job hunting to long-term football bans.

We’re not the fun police, alcohol is often part of matchday culture, but we’d rather fans understand the possible consequences of being a little too jolly when attending a football match over the festive season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  • If you’re arrested and in need of legal support over Christmas, it’s business as usual. Email Amanda Jacks, call 07703 51955 or via Twitter @fsf_faircop.

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.