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Man drinks beer outrage

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

Today’s media have been full of outraged coverage of Newcastle United fan – oh, and billionaire owner – Mike Ashley being seen by a television audience of millions downing a pint of lager in the Emirates stadium on Saturday.

Drinking alcohol within sight of a football pitch is of course currently an offence under English law, and it’s often a law that is vigorously enforced, with fans routinely ejected, arrested, charged and even banned as a result.

Inevitably then the question is asked – why does Mike Ashley get away with this?

The first thing the Emirates incident proved was that drinking a beer while watching a match turned out not to be the end of the world. No disorderly behaviour ensued, no-one was mortally offended, the game wasn’t disrupted, no-one died.

There’s no real reason why drinking in sight of the pitch should be problematic in itself, of course. Go to a rugby league game – often held in exactly the same football stadium, and watched by very similar people – and you can legally drink in view of the pitch: apparently it’s only in football that it’s a problem. Must be something to do with the shape of the ball.

No, just a minute – it can’t be the shape of the ball, because all over Europe football fans are allowed to drink in sight of the pitch. Before anyone tells us that fans abroad have a different relationship with beer, let’s remind ourselves that abroad in this context includes Germany, where there’s just as much of a beer culture as there is here – they even have festivals for the stuff. And if you go to a Bundesliga game, not only can you drink in view of the pitch, they’ll bring the beer to your seat for you, as vendors wander the stands with tanks of draught beer strapped to their back.

Evidence has not been forthcoming to suggest that drinking during a game leads to greater drunkenness or disorder. After all, the ban doesn’t seem to have stopped people drinking before a game – in fact, how many of us have rushed down an extra last pint or two before the game knowing that we won’t get another for a couple of hours? Or having spent most of half time being crushed in a mad dash for the bar, have had to neck it in one to get back for the restart? That can’t be healthy – or sobering.

No, it seems that this is just another example of one unnecessary law for football fans, and another for everyone else. There are plenty of existing laws to deal with drunkenness, or disorderly behaviour, should they arise – why do we need an extra one to prevent football fans having a beer while watching the match? The whole law needs re-examining.

Even if it’s generally felt that drinking in sight of the pitch is not to be encouraged, please let’s get things in proportion. If Mike Ashley was approached by stewards at the Emirates about his beer, then they must have done it very well, as they swiftly achieved their aim – within seconds (13.1 of them, according to Match of the Day), Ashley was no longer drinking in his seat. Did someone have a quiet word? “Excuse me, you’re not allowed that in here – either take it downstairs, or get rid of it”? No fuss, no escalation into a bigger problem – and certainly no ejection, no arrest. That’s how good stewarding, even good policing should work.

Unfortunately, that kind of good stewarding and policing is experienced all too rarely by football fans, which inevitably leads people to conclude that Ashley was treated differently because he’s a club chairman. Whether that was the reason or not, his treatment was certainly different from that of the Stoke fan at Middlesbrough the same day, who was arrested and charged for the same misdemeanour. Or the Liverpool fan the following day, arrested at Aston Villa, held in a cell for seven hours, charged and bailed to reappear before magistrates in Birmingham next Monday – for drinking in the stand. Or all the other countless fans who contact the FSF having been the victim of similar treatment, often leading to conviction, a criminal record, and in some cases a Football Banning Order. All a bit disproportionate for an insignificant “offence” – one that shouldn’t exist at all.

 Mike Ashley did no-one any harm enjoying his pint on Saturday. If anything, he may have done some good, as he – and the media over-reaction, assisted by some fool making an official complaint against him – has helped highlight an absurd law, over-zealous policing and disproportionate punishment, all of which are the lot of an average football fan on an average match day.

If Mike Ashley faces further disciplinary action as a result of his pint at the match, he can count on the assistance of the Football Supporters’ Federation.

If he doesn’t, then he’s set a useful precedent, proving that a pint in the stands does no harm, and that good stewarding doesn’t make a bit deal out of a minor infringement. Maybe some of the past over-the-top punishments for the same “crime” could be revoked too?

Cheers, Mike. We’ll drink to that.

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