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“Hooligan” stats just don’t add up

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Today’s news that incidents of football hooliganism involving younger fans have almost trebled in the past three years will be news to most football fans. In fact, we suspect most will file this “news” under the category “rubbish”. It doesn’t tally with most supporters’ experience of going to games, and it certainly isn’t backed up by the stats.

Latest Home Office figures actually show a decrease in trouble at games with just 0.01% of the 37m people who attend football matches arrested, and only one in 10 of those for offences of violence.

Nevertheless, latest stats leaked to the BBC from senior police officials claim that football disorder “incidents” involving young people are on the rise having climbed from 38 in 07/08 to 103 in 08/09. (Note “incidents”, not arrests or convictions.)

The first thing that strikes you is just how low these figures actually are. 37m people attended matches in 08/09 and only 103 incidents involving young fans? Aren’t we a well behaved bunch! We’d certainly like to see some real analysis into the significance of such a small increase from such a large sample, or a comparison with, say, the number of city-centre drinkers involved in “incidents” up and down the country at weekends.

The other number being “revealed” is that there are now 283 people aged under 20 on Football Banning Orders (FBOs); that’s only 9% of the total. Or, to put it another way, 91% of people on FBOs are over 20, contradicting the very basis on which the “young hooligans run riot” story is built.

So where do these figures come from then? They’re based on statistics from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), a non-government, private company which receives funding from the UK’s 44 police authorities and the Home Office.

ACPO’s sudden flurry of press activity comes 12 days before the Government is set to announce potentially massive spending cuts and at a time when the police themselves are pushing the Government to reconsider the issue of “full cost recovery”. Basically they want football clubs to cover the cost of policing away from stadiums on matchdays – something the law currently prohibits.

The FSF has spoken to the UK Football Policing Unit, who categorically denied releasing these statistics to the media. Whoever did leak this story has an uncanny knack for timing, though, and it is fortuitous for the ACPO and the UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) for the media to be running sensationalist stories about hooliganism days before budgets are decided.

The final word goes to the Football League; an organisation with absolutely no truck with hooligans:

“Football has been transformed during the last two decades and nobody in the game is complacent about hooliganism. However, we are very surprised and disappointed that wider assumptions are being made about an increase of 66 incidents, some of which would not have been considered serious enough to merit an arrest, across a 10 month playing season that encompassed 2000 football matches watched by more than 30 million people.”

Well said.

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