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Dedicated followers of fashion

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Recently, we told you of the young Derby County fan kettled without explanation at an away fixture. Here FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks looks at the trend of fans being policed on their clothing rather than their behaviour…

“This pleasure seeking individual always looks his best… they seek him here they seek him there, he’s a dedicated follower of fashion,” so sang The Kinks back in 1966. I imagine the lyricist extraordinaire and great Ray Davies would be surprised to find me paraphrasing his lyrics nearly 50 years later in an article about the policing of football fans but I do so for a good reason.

For many supporters football and the fashion of the day go hand in hand, with yesterday’s jacket, tie and flat cap morphing into the latest styles often boasting an obvious or discreet designer label, but this is nothing new.  Many chroniclers of football yore recount how the terraces doubled up as a catwalk, an opportunity for the cut of the latest jib to be showed off, admired and coveted.  

But such expensive clobber is not kept in the wardrobe exclusively to be worn on a match day, it’s a lifestyle choice after all, but it will only be at football that its wearers attracts attention from the police who are doubtful, as Ray Davies sings, the fans are after a pleasurable day out, rather that they are seeking confrontation with rival fans. Indeed, one officer with many years’ experience in policing football, told me recently, that if one thing rouses his suspicions it will be clothing, or rather particular clothing. 

There is no doubt that certain brands are synonymous with ‘hooliganism’ and if you watch online footage of disorder, yes, some of them will indeed be wearing them – but plenty more won’t be. Indeed, the now infamous ‘horse puncher’ was wearing his clubs own shirt! So while I won’t deny the link, tenuous as though it maybe, nobody has ever been convicted for what they were wearing rather the offences they’ve committed despite their clothing, not because of it. 

I am frequently contacted by younger men who go to games in groups complaining of the attention they attract from the police. Beyond being football fans the common denominator is that they all admit to being dedicated followers of fashion.  

Despite having no convictions or history of being involved in disorder, I’m told how their groups are met off trains and made to give their details to police while being filmed, how they’re singled out in a pub full of fans and questioned as to their intentions or made to produce their match tickets and on occasion how they’re actually followed around town.

If these young men are part of an ‘atmosphere group’ (or ultras) then that too can arouse additional suspicion in the minds of some police officers who simply misunderstand their intentions and for reasons best known to themselves equate banners, constant chanting and banging a drum with the threat of disorder. Even simply wearing black jackets is enough to be singled out; I’ve seen a civil banning order application that cited the subject “always wearing a black jacket and jeans so he could blend with the crowd”. Yet a black jacket or coat is a staple in most of our wardrobes.

If these men are guilty of being fashion conscious football fans there is no official guidance whatsoever to suggest they should be. The College of Policing has produced a checklist on what makes a risk fan and to support that explicitly states that “..it is essential that the risk in relation to groups is quantifiable and dynamically assessed…”

Further the European Union also helpfully categorises risk and non-risk fans.  Nowhere is it said “look out for their clothing” and nor have I ever heard a match commander suggest the officers on the ground target fans, either directly or indirectly, due to their attire. 

And if that isn’t enough, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) could not be clearer around stop and search:

“….Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors. It must rely on intelligence or information about, or some specific behaviour by, the person concerned. For example, unless the police have a description of a suspect, a person’s physical appearance (including any of the ‘protected characteristics’ set out in the Equality Act 2010 (see paragraph 1.1), or the fact that the person is known to have a previous conviction, cannot be used alone or in combination with each other, or in combination with any other factor, as the reason for searching that person. Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on generalisations or stereotypical images of certain groups or categories of people as more likely to be involved in criminal activity….”

So, what’s the upshot of this attention?  In some extreme cases I’ve been told fans have simply stopped going to matches because the undue attention they receive from the police ruins their day but mainly the message is that it results in a loss of respect for the police.  They may start drinking in different pubs to avoid unwarranted attention but that can be perceived by the police as justifying their suspicions that they’re involved in planning disorder and want to evade them.

The worst case scenario is one that has actually been realised in some instances: “They already think I’m a hooligan so I’ve got nothing to lose”.  Is this really what the police want to achieve – alienation from groups of younger male football fans? I’ve no basis whatsoever to believe that this is the case but this is what is happening.   This policing often based on little more than lazy stereotyping needs to stop. Relationships between supporters and police need to be healthy for them to be effective. 

I finish on an anecdote relayed to me by a member of the legal profession who was defending a case where their client was charged with disorder.  While giving evidence, a police officer advised that the accused was wearing a North Face jacket, the implication being that implied guilt to some degree. The judge intervened and dryly asked the officer if that was the same brand of coat his colleague in the public gallery was wearing.  The officer had to confirm that that was indeed the case.

Fans should be aware of their rights when stopped by police.  I strongly suggest filming any interactions which may be helpful in the event you want to challenge your treatment.  Watch these educational videos produced by y-stop.org around stop and search.  Only if the police reasonably believe you have committed anti-social behaviour can they ask for your name and address, but not your date of birth.  (Anti-social behaviour is defined as causing alarm, harassment or distress).   The police cannot say you are going to engage in anti-social behaviour and you should ask them to clarify what they believe you have done that constitutes anti-social behaviour.  You should also clarify that they (the police) are using section 50 of the Police Reform Act.  Otherwise you do not have to give your details voluntarily – and you shouldn’t either.

Watching Football Is Not A Crime! is part of the FSF’s ongoing drive to monitor the police in their dealings with football fans and work with them to ensure that all fans are treated fairly and within the law. You can contact FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks via:

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don’t necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn’t be attributed to the FSF. 

Thanks to WMP for the image used in this blog. Reproduced here under CC licence.

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