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“Return to the bad old days”: A response to media hysterics

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

Yesterday UEFA President Michel Platini joined the recent pile-on against football fans and warned of a return to the “dark days” of European football.

Although Platini’s concerns were mainly with countries such as Greece and Russia – where radicalisation and severe disorder (and ancient police tactics) stubbornly remain – the British media hasn’t passed on recent opportunities to put the boot into football fans.

Media outlets continue to hype up hooliganism in wake of the two celebratory pitch invasions in the quarter finals of the FA Cup at Villa Park and the Madejski Stadium. We’re asking where is the balance in covering football-related disorder?

The BBC, Daily Express and The Daily Mail have been contributing hysterical coverage. Headlines and quotes about the “bad old days” and a “return to the 1980s” were splashed across screens and newspapers.

Prior to Sunday’s fixture between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield, the Daily Mail said Merseyside Police were on “red alert” over hooliganism – a sensationalist response to six banning orders coming to an end (the game passed without major incident).

What hasn’t been reported is the reality: football in this country has never been safer. As we reported at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, football arrests are at their lowest point on record despite attendances going up and up over the last 30 years.

Former-FSF national council member Chris Nash, who compiled arrests statistics for us (see graph below), said: “The Home Office statistics show a success story in our game.” The figures brought together by Chris show that in spite of attendances rising, disorder was coming down: 

  • Arrests have declined by 65% in the Premier League and 55% in the Championship.
  • One arrest per 18,614 spectators at Premier League and Football League matches in 2013-14.
  •  Approximately one banning order per 70,000 spectators.

Nash 1992 2014 Arrests3

Amanda Jacks, FSF caseworker said: “The figures show that the vast majority of football fans can and do behave themselves.

“Football fans know how to behave, but the fact that they’re continually demonised in the media leads to a very low expectation of football fan behaviour – that they’re always on the edge of disorder.”

Despite most of the coverage being sensationalist in nature, there have been a few oddities – as Martin Cloake, co-chair of Tottenham Hotspur, pointed out in a recent blog.

Most notably, the BBC in promoting the FA Cup said that no FA Cup competition is complete without a pitch invasion one day, then says it’s a “return to the dark ages” the next.

“When such utter tosh was challenged the response was reminiscent of the press treatment of anyone who tried to discuss Irish republicanism or the ANC’s struggle during those much-referenced dark days of the 80s,” Martin said in his blog for News Hub. “No attempt at measured debate, just a barrage of ‘but do you condemn violence?’

“Any attempt to point out the inaccuracy of the sensationalist, blanket statements being made was immediately labelled an apology for violence.”

Finally, it was heartening to see fans’ groups challenging this narrative – on social media and at matches. At Villa Park the Brigada 1874 arranged banners criticising the media coverage of the pitch invasion and the demonisation of fans.

Thanks to Danny Molyneux for the image used in this article. Reproduced here under CC license.

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