A Year In The Life...

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The FSF, as you may or may not know, represents more than 150,000 football fans as individuals and affiliated groups across England and Wales. Our National Council, made up of volunteers and fans such as yourself, regularly meets with the FA, Premier League, relevant Government departments and officials, senior police and more - we also pick up all kinds of individual case work on behalf of supporters.

Now isn’t that a lovely bit of spiel?!

Of course it’s hard to know what that actually means without examples so as a nice round up of the year’s highlights we thought we’d write about some of the work we’d done representing you, the fan, throughout 2009. It’s by no means everything we’ve done, but hopefully it gives a little more feel for what we’re all about…

2009 began with a bang and plenty of work following the launch of our Watching Football Is Not A Crime! campaign. The campaign was our response to the disgraceful treatment, in separate incidents, of Stoke and Plymouth fans by Greater Manchester (GMP) and South Yorkshire Police. The authorities had used something called Section 27 to, effectively, move football fans across entire counties against their will. These fans, who had committed no crime, soon came to the FSF with their tales and we’d be hearing a lot more about this as the year progressed.

It was a long and winding case that started with, as ever, dirty PR tactics from the police branding fans as thugs, hooligans, yobs and whatever other clichéd adjective they could come up with. Happily though it ended with the FSF winning by a comfortable margin, if it was a match we’d have made it 5-1 to the FSF. The police took an early lead but it’s a 90 minute game, Jeff.

First off GMP admitted they had unlawfully used Section 27 on Stoke fan Lyndon Edwards and were forced to pay out almost £3,000. Scores of other Stoke fans also received compensation for the horrendous manner in which they were treated. By October the police were even sending along their top brass to apologise in person to Stoke fans after further complaints were received about their handling of Stoke fans on their away trip to Bolton. Fair play to them for saying sorry this time!

It was then the turn of South Yorkshire Police to admit the error of their ways and they too had to pay up and compensate Plymouth fans for the equally appalling way they’d been treated prior to their team’s visit to Doncaster. In total we estimate that around £100,000 was paid out to the dozens of Stoke and Plymouth fans involved.

None of this would have happened without the FSF being there to represent them, the fans. And we can only continue this work if fans keep joining and keep getting involved!

JUSTICE/Liberty noticed too and we were nominated for their Human Rights 2009 Award. Although Joanna Lumley and the Gurkhas pipped us to it, hey ho!

As well as work with groups of fans we do loads of individual case work and often hear from people who’ve been chucked out of grounds for being drunk. But in January Crystal Palace season ticket holder Andrew Saunders got in touch with us to say he’d been thrown out for the heinous crime of sitting next to someone who was drunk. This was even a new one for us!

The stewards had given him no chance to explain himself, so Andrew understandably resisted, at which point they tried to do him with assault - an accusation he vehemently denied.

The Crown Prosecution Service agreed and threw the case out. But this still wasn’t enough for Palace who refused to even answer Andrew’s letters asking for a refund on the games he’d missed. We stepped in, worked with Andrew and the Independent Football Ombudsman and, hey presto, Palace at last saw sense.

In February we rolled out the FSF North East’s Fair Cop? scheme to Portsmouth. Fair Cop? gives fans a unique opportunity to feed in their views on policing and stewarding via text and email lines. It means if something does kick-off, we have plenty of evidence from fans on how and why things might have gone wrong.

Come March we met with Michel Platini, yes that Michel Platini, to discuss our concerns around irresponsible spending on wages and transfers. As UEFA themselves acknowledged after the meeting, “Football without the fans is nothing.”

On the 1st April we proved we were no fools and helped some unhappy Hammers who feared they were about to be ripped off for their team’s trip to Villa Park. Both ticket offices had ignored complaints until we stepped in and pointed out to the respective clubs that they were actually breaking Premier League rules. They soon saw sense.

17-year-old Manchester United fan Sam Jones was also grateful to the FSF when we made sure he received a refund after being incorrectly identified as someone who’d punched a steward and thrown out of the Boleyn Ground. The drinks are on you Sam, well, when you’re old enough anyway.

Heard of the All Parliamentary Football Group? No? Well we gave evidence to them basically saying ‘keep an eye on those pesky owners’ – and they reported in April. This is the type of behind-the-scenes work that isn’t especially exciting, or even interesting to most fans, nor does it make headlines. But it can have a real impact on the way the game is viewed by Government.

Come May and we were out in Rome for the Champions League Final advising United fans on safety, transport and accommodation issues – as we had in Moscow the previous season, too. Another strange one for us was when Taunton Town Paul Chandler fan got in touch to say he’d been banned from his club’s ground…for being a ‘smart alec’!

Our Welsh division, FSF Cymru, also do tons of good stuff and worked with the Welsh FA earlier this year, the end result being that fans travelling to their country’s game in Azerbaijan were given complimentary tickets. Nice work! We also put the Football Licensing Authority (the organisation who refuse to allow safe standing) straight on a few things too!

In between panicking about Fans’ Parliament we also supported Farsley Celtic in their battle to avoid oblivion and the WorldNET Fans' Tournament which saw supporters from around the world come together for a kickabout in Leeds.

Pre-season arrived and we heard from some angry Sunderland fans who felt they’d been very poorly treated by Northumbria Police. We took the case to the IPCC, put many of the fans in touch with solicitors, defended supporters in the media and launched a petition appealing on SAFC to overturn unjust fan bans. The case is still ongoing, 42 fans are still on bail even though almost five months have passed, and no fans have been charged. Read more here.

October, and the season was in full swing, when we heard (again) about a dreaded ‘bubble match’. This is where the cops decide that fans can’t be trusted to make their own way to a game so force them to be bussed in and out, with very few exemptions. While it’s very difficult to get these decisions overturned we supported Burnley, ‘bubbled’ for their trip to Ewood Park, and gave them the best advice we could.

Back to Palace and their fans were mightily pi**ed off with their stewards’ heavy handed approach. We helped set up a meet between fans and club and it appears to have been smoothed out.

We also defended, and promised to cover some of the costs, for a Manchester United fan who’d been, wrongly, accused of throwing a coin during his team’s game with Wigan. Who knows what the end result would have been if we hadn't stepped in?

The World Cup is of course just around the corner and we launched our Fans’ Guide to South Africa website to coincide with the World Cup draw. With news, city guides, fans’ views, blogs, directory and essential travel info we hope it will prove to be an unrivalled source of information for travelling fans.

Some of the most high-profile work we do is around England, via our Nationwide FSF Fans’ Embassy team, Free Lions magazine, and Fans’ Guides. This work would simply not be possible without the hard work of all the volunteers who make sure thousands of England fans can enjoy their away games with the best security and travel information around. Oh, and we also tell them where the best pubs are too. Absolutely vital.

On to the home straight now, we’re going to have to stop typing soon as it’s almost time for the FSF Christmas party and we’re due a pint. If you’re interested in the work we do join the FSF today and get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

Until 2010, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!