The thin blue line (costs us a packet)

25 01 2011

It’s amazing what turns up by chance when you’re surfing. One of the Blue Army Intellectuals found this document on his internet travels.

So the North Wales Police charged Wrexham over £210,000 for policing matches in the  5 years up to 2009, and  they charged little old Rhyl over £3,000 for policing a couple of matches as well. Yes the police charged clubs for the services they provided. But just a minute, don’t our rates, council taxes and taxes pay for the police? Don’t our glorious political parties fight elections over “The Law and Order Issue”?

Let’s give this a bit of thought. The police are a part of our society and football matches are also part of our society. The police are the main public agency that deals with public safety and  football matches are events that a lot of people go to so consequnetly they may cause a few problems for public safety. If we put 2 and 2 together, couldn’t the police deal with matches if security issues arise because it’s part of their raison d’etre, especially when the police are publically funded. Unfortunately public money doesn’t seem enough for a police force that require the latest gadgets for battering long-haired protesters.

There are two problems highlighted by this document as far as I see. Firstly part-time clubs like Rhyl are greatly affected by a police bill like this (it would eat up the gate receipts from at least the  match policed) and secondly, the people who go to the matches are, in effect, paying for the police twice, once through taxes and again through the entry fee. 

You have to consider who wants the police there in the first place. Of course the clubs might want the police there for added security but what if the police decide a match is a security risk and then issue “Police Advice”? Entreprenurial Chief Constables may decide their offices need a spruce up and then go on to decide loads of matches are dangerous. But we live in reasonable old Great Briatin and you’d like to think that policemen here would never take advantage of a chance to make extra mone like that.

When it comes to the relationship between the British police and football they go together like a truncheon and a striking miner’s head. To be blunt, in football the police seem to enjoy a sense of arbitary power. For example fans have been known to hear the phrases “kick off changed on police advice” and “Match Cancelled on Police Advice” as well. Here’s a few more examples of the police issuing their “advice”;

–  The friendly (Chester FC) with Rhyl FC on Saturday 17th July 2010 has been called off on the advice of North Wales Police.

–  “The Rhyl-Guilsfield game was the only fixture to survive the cold snap, but there is an update about which teams are applying to join the Cymru Alliance.

More pitches may have been playable but several clubs made the decision not to travel on police advice.”

– The Scottish Football Association insist police will always have the final say on the scheduling of Scotland’s international matches

You get a sense of their power from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

“The police can also search a football coach going to or from a football match if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting there is alcohol on board or that someone is drunk on the coach.”

So the police only need to suspect that something is “going to happen” and they can infringe your civil rights. The Football Supporter’s Federation started a campign entitled “Watching football is not a crime!” because the police have started to use Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 as a way of stopping football supporters, usually in pubs, from attending matches. In case you’re wondering about Section 27, it…….

……..allows police to move someone from a specified area for a period of up to 48 hours. No offence needs to have been committed for the act to be enforced: the legislation gives police the power to move on people who they say pose a risk of alcohol-related disorder.

This is meant to be a specified locality but in the instances we’ve heard of police have moved people across the entire country under threat of arrest if they don’t comply. No hard evidence appears to be required, and no crime needs to have been committed.

The legislation was clearly designed to allow the moving on of small numbers of individuals who have been misbehaving under the influence of alcohol – for example, clearing areas outside of nightclubs at closing time. It was not designed to enable, in effect, football banning order to be imposed by the police on an entire pub.”

Mind you historically those with power don’t like the “potential for anarchy” that big groups offer. This could have been peasants revolting, luddites smashing, Chartists demanding,  Hippies and students protesting, miners striking or even people dancing in a field. It doesn’t matter “The Man” has never liked them. I know that football fans can cause trouble but mass trouble seldom happens nowadays. On the other hand the Police use the spectre of potential to award themselves greater powers. Not convinced? look at this from a recent FSF publication;

So you probably still think that you’d have to do something fairly impressive for your local force to bring a case against you and threaten you with a banning order? You’d be wrong.  

  • Suppose that you head to your next away match, perhaps a local derby or cup game, to pick up a ticket from a mate at a pub a short distance from the ground.
  • As it’s busy, a couple of policemen are there monitoring events, but it’s all good natured, and there’s no hint of any trouble.
  • You are corralled into a larger group of your fans by police near the away end; the police spotters are there with camcorders looking out for the troublemakers, but you largely ignore them as you make your way to the ground.
  • Walking in the throng towards the turnstiles the anticipation and atmosphere grows, and you exchange a few songs (and perhaps the odd choice word) with groups of home supporters you pass.
  • All harmless, regular matchday occurrences for many, you may think. Unfortunately, each of these decisions could lead you on the road to a Football Banning Order under Section 14(B) of the Football Spectators Act of 1989, as amended by the Football (Disorder) Act 2000: 
  • Police have used the fact that you have travelled to the game without a ticket as evidence that you are going to contribute to violence or disorder. Unknown to you, there were risk supporters in the pub you chose to stop at, or people on banning orders. The police have now identified you as associating with risk supporters.
  • Your choice of pub indicates you are intent on contributing to disorder with home fans. Conversely if you’d chosen a pub further away that wasn’t a typical matchday pub, the police use this as evidence that disorder was planned away from the ground. 
  • You have been videoed in a police escort. If you weren’t a risk supporter, why else would you require an escort? The fact that you had no choice is irrelevant.
  • Swearing and gesturing at opposition fans has been taken as a sign of aggression. The police use this behaviour as evidence that you intend to commit disorder. A worst case scenario, of course, but each of these arguments has been used successfully by the police applying for FBOs. Section 14(B) is a civil sanction, the standard of proof is only “in the balance of probabilities”, rather than“beyond reasonable doubt”, as criminal cases require.

What a great thing it is to be a football fan in this beacon of democracy; we pay twice to have our rights infringed because we choose to be football fans.

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