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Lack of appeal is unfair deal

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

Clubs have the legal right to ban whoever they like (so long as they don’t break equality laws). But surely there must be adequate appeals processes in place for fans who feel they’ve been unfairly treated? Not always, and different clubs handle things in very different ways, says the FSF’s Amanda Jacks… 

It’s rare for a football club to operate any type of “due process” when banning supporters from their ground. We’ve heard from fans banned for all manner of reasons and, in our experience, it can take considerable time to get their bans lifted.

We recognise that clubs have every right to refuse admission to supporters but feel such a drastic step should only be taken after both sides have been heard – a transparent banning process that gives a supporter the chance to have their say.

Even when a Football Banning Order has not been handed out, or a fan has been acquitted by the courts, clubs sometimes choose to ban fans from their stadium. Is this reasonable? The majority of clubs offer no processes or procedures acting as judge, jury and executioner, which leaves fans at the whim of the club Safety Officer who is often behind such decisions.

Thanks to ticket Terms & Conditions supporters have no right to a refund for games missed if they are season ticket holders meaning, effectively, clubs are imposing a financial penalty as well as depriving the supporter of the ability to support his or her team.

Supporters often tell us they’ve been banned because of a complaint but when they try to get further information, confidentiality is cited (often wrongfully) meaning no defence can be made against unknown accusations. How is that fair?

Recently, we’ve assisted two supporters of different Premier League clubs who found themselves arbitrarily banned. The contrast in these cases was stark.

Fan A to Fan B

Fan A was supporting his team abroad. The night before the game he was arrested, the offence did not involve violence and was very minor. He admitted the charge, paid a fine and watched the match. This was his first offence; he’s never before given a police officer or steward cause to speak to him in 10 years of following his team home and away.

Details of his arrest were passed back to his club via the police and he found himself banned for three years. After a tortuous process and appeal hearing the ban was reduced to two years to be reviewed at the end of this season, “if he doesn’t get into trouble again”. This fan had renewed his season ticket prior to the incident abroad.

Fan B had been involved in minor disorder inside a stadium he was visiting as an away fan. He accepted a caution, was given a fixed penalty notice and contacted the FSF for advice about paying the fine, explaining in full detail the circumstances that had lead to his arrest and club ban.

He then contacted the club, explained the situation and emphasised how sorry he genuinely was for his actions. It helped that another supporter (not known to Fan B) also got in touch to complain that over zealous policing and stewarding had provoked the incident. That fan has lodged a formal complaint with the club.

This information came in very useful when the Safety Officer of the club rang us to discuss the ban (something that doesn’t happen too often). He very reasonably agreed that although the fan was guilty (he was cautioned and fined), the police had not put him before the courts or applied for a banning order, and that should certainly be taken into account. He also accepted the supporter’s actions were totally out of character and his remorse genuine. The ban was lifted and the fan allowed back. If only all clubs were as sensible and pragmatic.

Should a football club’s right to refuse admission allow them to ride roughshod over fundamental principles such as innocence before guilt and the right to see the evidence used against you?

Here at the FSF we’d argue very strongly that it doesn’t and the time is long overdue for clubs to operate a fair, reasonable and transparent banning process. We’ve drafted a banning process we’d like clubs to adhere to, if you work for a club and would like to see it email amanda.jacks@fsf.org.uk.

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