Scally Magazine looks at how stereotypes of football fans are still embedded in institutions, and why fans should have the right to choose…
There is a real sense of irony when one of the country’s most corrupt and unaccountable institutions points the finger at a particular stratum of society to blame others and reinforce class stereotypes.
No, not the Conservative and Unionist Party (although they very much play a part). I am referring to Police forces up and down the country.
Football fandom and fan ‘culture’ has long been the target of police and state ideologues. Historically, it has often felt like the weekly gathering of largely working-class fans at football matches has somewhat provided the opportunity for agents of the state and power reproducers to experiment with how they operate.
Throughout the history of the game, we have consistently seen the irrational and unrelenting will of the police to treat fans with contempt and disdain. From Hillsborough to Hampden, we have seen lies, smears, and mistreatment of fans up and down the United Kingdom.
One would like to believe that we have moved on from such classist attitudes toward fans, with the corporatisation and globalisation of the sport offering up the capital to improve stadium conditions and attract people from all walks of life to the game.
Maybe there will be talk of a revamp- or potential abolition- of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985 which banned football supporters from consuming ale in view of the pitch. It is a progressive world we are living in after all. Right?
Don’t hold your breath.
Cue Cheshire Chief Constable and English National Football Lead, Mark Roberts.
In September 2021, Roberts claimed that it would be irresponsible to fuel football’s problem with disorder by allowing fans to drink alcohol in the stands. In November of this year, he claimed that the introduction of safe standing into stadiums is a “headlong rush” and made his reservations loud and clear.
What exactly is Roberts referring to when he says football’s problem with disorder? There is a decade long consistent decline in football-related arrests. There was 1381 football related arrests across the 2018-2019 season. This is across approximately 1500 games across the Football League and Premier League, out of hundreds of thousands of fans. Making sweeping generalisations about a very fluid and increasingly diverse set of people is an approach demonstrative of somebody who is actively seeking out reasons to assert power and control.
The ongoing research at the Sports Ground Safety Authority into Safe Standing has published some early findings which also contradict Roberts’ nebulous concerns in this area:
Research so far suggests that, overall, installing barriers (or safety bars) has had a positive impact on spectator safety, particularly in mitigating the risk of crowd collapse. Celebrations are more orderly with limited opportunity for forward or backwards movement compared to observations in seated areas.
Is the problem for Roberts that there isn’t enough of a problem for him and his force to experiment with, or is it that classist stereotypes are embedded into his psyche given that what he represents compels it to be so? Probably both.
It could not be clearer that there is a clamour from certain institutions to attempt to ensure that fans have no control or choice on how they choose to experience football games. It should not be up for debate if fans choose to want to have an alcoholic drink in the stands, or if they choose to purchase a ticket in an area that allows them to stand safely throughout. This element of choice is something that seems to have riled the authorities. How dare us peasants have a say.
Let us be clear that the approach towards policing football fans is one based on class. Search the Government website for middle-class Rugby related arrests and you will be hard pressed to find any data. Go to a Rugby game and you can have a bevvy in the stands. No questions asked. Classism is alive and kicking in our institutions and continues to disproportionately affect those at the so-called bottom rung of the societal ladder.
We are in very dangerous territory when decades old tropes and typecasts continue to be irresponsibly championed by people in positions of leadership. Tarnishing fans with such rhetoric serves to impose wider societal implications. History tells us this. It is for us, the working-class fan, to continue to challenge and condemn the likes of Chief Constable Roberts. It could not be clearer that they are not here to protect our interests. It is time for us to choose.