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Rising disorder

Rising disorder

Disorder increased after fans returned to matches. There are hopes it will naturally subside.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… Is increased fan disorder a storm in a teacup?

***

This week, representatives from the Premier League are due to meet with the UK Football Policing Unit. 

That’s because there’s concern over a rise in fan disorder at matches this season. 

Last weekend, Aston Villa’s Matty Cash and Lucas Digne were hit by a plastic bottle during their match at Everton’s Goodison Park. 

And Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger was struck by missiles away at Tottenham.

Here’s what Chelsea  manager Thomas Tuchel had to say about that incident.

“We love to have them close to the pitch… we love that it’s a brilliant atmosphere… that they are not behind fences, not behind nets or whatever. So and then from there everybody needs to show respect and needs to behave, of course.”

Press Association

These are not just isolated incidents. It’s happening across the UK and at most levels of football.

It’s something I’ve seen personally at National League games… and the research backs up the anecdotal evidence. 

Reported incidents of disorder are up 56% in the National League compared to 2019/20.

Across England, there have been more than 750 reported incidents this season, and 800 football-related arrests. 

Almost half of all matches end with reported problems of this kind.

What do we mean by disorder?

It’s things like missiles being thrown, hate crime, flares and general nuisance behaviour. 

To understand more, I spoke to an expert. 

Professor Geoff Pearson from the University of Manchester has a PhD in “Legal Responses to Football Crowd Disorder.”

Geoff says that there’s a need for perspective, that arrest statistics are notoriously poor at telling us about levels of criminality. 

However, he does say that there has been an increase in anti-social behaviour since supporters have been allowed back in to watch matches. 

Why?

“When football fans went back into stadiums, we did see a bit more problematic behaviour because fans were letting their hair down, they were hitting the booze harder, they were going…you know meeting up with their friends and going and singing from earlier in the day and for longer…simply because they had been denied those opportunities.”

Geoff Pearson

When the opportunity to take part in what Geoff calls “carnivalesque and transgressive behaviour” is denied to fans…some of them will always go to the extreme when it is handed back to them.

There are practical reasons too.

Some fans who attended live games before the pandemic haven’t returned and they’ve been replaced by people who may not have previously attended games. 

“First of all, we’ve clearly got a lot of young people…14, 15, 16 year-olds that are desperate to get out to football with their mates. And normally we have these sort of drip-fed into the football fan system year on year, six months on six months. That’s not happened this year. We’ve suddenly got…bang…you know, a whole host of them that have been desperate to get to the football and haven’t been able to for 18 months, two years.”

Geoff Pearson

These older teenagers, and others who wouldn’t usually go to matches, have started going. 

And they don’t necessarily know how to behave. 

They also might not know about the tools the police have to find them… CCTV, football intelligence officers… and the consequences too. Banning orders and arrests.

But as Geoff Pearson pointed out, there’s not necessarily a reason to feel overly pessimistic about the current situation. 

There have been a lot of recent advances in crowd management because of increased communication between football policing officers and fans.

“That works in terms of negotiation, in terms of dialogue, in terms of setting down acceptable tolerance limits, acceptable forms of behaviour… and in doing so, the police also get intelligence about what the…who the risk individuals are in that crowd.”

“18 months we’ve not had that… the police haven’t have access to the ability to gain intelligence and the ability to influence how fans behave. And, you know, a lot of police offers that we speak to in the course of our research are simply telling us that the people that are getting involved in incidents…they’ve never seen before.”

Geoff Pearson

Policing is only one part of crowd management. 

Stewards play an important role too. The problem is, a lot of the experienced, competent  ones were forced to find other jobs when games went behind closed doors during the pandemic. 

And of course, many haven’t come back. They’ve been replaced by people with much less experience.

So it seems like the answer to a lot of the problems with disorder at football matches is… time.

When the post-lockdown euphoria dies down, when the perpetrators see the consequences of their actions, when police build more intelligence, and as new stewards become more experienced, then the problems should settle too.

“The real risk, of course, is that the poorer football policing operations may start to panic and may respond in a more reactive, disproportionate sense. More use of riot police, for example. Which of course will make matters worse. We know this about crowd behaviour and crowd psychology. So I think to a certain extent, just keep doing the good practice in terms of football policing. It will calm down. Keep your nerve I would say to football policing officers.” 

Geoff Pearson

And in the long-term, Geoff Pearson says that the football laws need to be revisited. 

That many of them, especially the ban on drinking alcohol in view of the pitch, are antiquated and actually make fan behaviour worse.

But the hope is that some of the disorder we are seeing in stadiums at the moment will subside on its own.

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Gary Marshall.