One of the most common emails we receive is from fans who’ve been treated like hardened criminals for the ‘crime’ of drinking within sight of the pitch.
While you’re allowed to have a pint in your seat if your club’s playing host to a pop concert, the full weight of the law will hit you like a sledgehammer if you try to do the same at a football match.
It’s one of life’s great mysteries. It's fine to have a pint in the ground - as long as it’s not in sight of the pitch. Is that because the heady sight of grass and alcohol combined sends people into an uncontrollable rage or something?
But if you are apprehended for this
evil victimless crime all is not lost. Just make sure you get in touch with the FSF! While we can’t make any promises at all - you have broken the law, whether we agree with that law or not, and are likely to be cautioned/convicted/fined - we will put you in touch with solicitors and offer solid advice based on experience. It is worth getting in touch.
Take Middlesbrough fan Scott Stonehouse for example.
It was a sunny, late October afternoon and Scott was just back from the USA and going to his first game in three weeks. Come half-time he meets up with some mates from Boro’s Red Faction for a beer.
“Due to the crowd,” says Scott “I only got my drink as the second-half was about to start. And yes, despite falling attendances at the Riverside there is still a queue for a beer at half time!
“I didn’t want to miss kick-off so quickly drank as much as I could and without really thinking, let alone knowing the consequences, took the rest up to my seat, passing two stewards on the way.”
The solitary plastic bottle of Carlsberg wasn’t hidden from anyone and Scott put it underneath his seat before his attention turned back to the game.
Within minutes a group of Cleveland Police’s finest marched up the stairs towards Scott’s block and asked if he’d join them in the concourse. No reason was given why and Scott made his way down to the concourse.
Once there he was immediately handcuffed and taken to the police HQ inside the stadium where he was searched and photographed. Scott was then escorted out of the ground, still handcuffed, and taken to a local station for ‘processing’. All his details were recorded and personal belongings confiscated – season ticket, cash and phone.
Even Scott’s belt and shoelaces were taken away. Although given this was the end of the Southgate-era and Boro had just lost at home to Plymouth it could probably have been considered a sensible move for any Boro supporters, not just those in police custody.
“I was then taken for interviewing and given the whole ‘you are under arrest for drinking alcohol within sight of a sporting playing field, you do not have to say anything’ which was pretty scary considering the only time I’d ever heard this before was on The Bill!
“They also offered the opportunity to watch the CCTV footage although I declined as I didn’t think there was any need - I know what I look like,” jokes Scott.
Nonetheless Scott did take the charge seriously and contacted the FSF after taking advice from the Red Faction’s Andrew Leigh who was familiar with us following our support of the Red Faction’s Support Your Team Not Violence campaign.
After a couple of adjournments Scott finally got his day in court with the police refusing to offer a caution and pushing for a conviction. This is a common prosecution tactic and in the vast majority of cases is simply not needed – in football terminology it’s an over-the-ball, two-footed lunge.
Thankfully the judge agreed and red carded the prosecution's case.
The court also agreed to refund all of Scott’s defence costs. A victory for common sense, as they say!
“I am not 1p out of pocket and had the best solicitor a football fan could want behind me,” says Scott. “I will forever be in the debt of Melanie Cooke (Scott's solicitor at RFB Legal) and everybody at the FSF who worked on my case. I fully expected to pay a solicitor about £500 but with the help of the FSF I’ve had the best possible outcome - and from now I’ll get a soft drink at half time!”
It’s not just the criminal side of things that fans should bear in mind either.
Throughout the case Scott was in touch with FSF chair Malcolm Clarke and Amanda Jacks who heads our policing and stewarding work. After speaking to the club Scott’s stadium ban was also overturned and he’s now free to follow his team again.