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footbal fans and the law   CJA and Football Fans
  Article from New Statesman, 1995

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Early one Saturday morning last season, a group of Cardiff City supporters boarded their independently hired coach and set off to Plymouth to watch their team fight an important relegation battle. Eight miles outside of Plymouth they encountered a sizable roadblock consisting of several police cars, vans, and dogs.

All 36 occupants were ordered off the coach three at a time, strip searched, bundled into waiting vehicles and taken to three separate police stations in Plymouth, Torquay and Exeter.

For the supporters sent to Exeter, this was to prove a very uncomfortable journey; they were cramped into small one man cells with tiny windows for nearly an hour.

At the police station, the Cardiff fans were put into single cells and, despite several requests for legal representation, they were told that the duty solicitor was "not available". They were then held for over seven hours before the coachload was reassembled and given a full police escort all the way back to the Severn Bridge.

The police claimed that they were acting on an anonymous tip off and had held the fans to prevent a serious breach of the peace, alleging that drugs and alcohol were found on the bus. Police later confirmed that no offensive weapons were found and that all the fans had been released without charge.


In Stoke, a ten year old boy completed a soccer course at the first division club and was given a complimentary ticket for the next home game. As he didn't want to go to the game on his own, he thought he'd make a little bit of pocket money by selling the ticket in his local paper, advertising the £11 ticket for just £7.

Two days later, the boy's father received a call from the Stoke City Club Secretary informing him that his son had committed a criminal offence and would be reported to the police for the "unauthorised sale of a football ticket".

Events and arrests like this look like being more commonplace since the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, a piece of legislation that has serious consequences for the civil rights of all football fans.

Against a background of continually falling arrests and a widely-held belief that football grounds are much safer places to visit, these new powers seem to fly in the face of common sense, and many supporters feel that the very essence of their Saturday afternoon is under threat.

Fans have often believed themselves to be victims of aggressive and provocative policing, and this new legislation opens up the possibilities of creating tension, ill-feeling and possible confrontation between fans and police.

Sit down and keep quiet

Take the new "intentional harassment" law. If the police decide that you are shouting or gesturing within sight or hearing of a person "likely to be caused alarm or distress", you could be convicted of a criminal offence.

This new crime carries a maximum punishment of six months in prison. This is worryingly vague. Surely part of the pleasure of football is being able to shout, taunt and generally let off steam harmlessly at the opposition for ninety minutes?


There is already legislation in place which rightly convicts people who use racist or abusive language, but in theory this new law gives the police powers of indiscriminate arrest. Anyone who dares stand up and shout in frustration or jubilation at a match could now find themselves swiftly ejected or arrested.

The Criminal Justice Act also gives police extended powers reminiscent of the old 'sus' laws of the 1970s. The police can now set up 24 hour 'stop and search' zones (persons and vehicles) if they believe 'violence could occur in that area'. Many are concerned that these stop and search zones could become a regular occurrence.

Football fans have been subjected to searches at grounds for many years now, but it's interesting to note that out of the 22 million who attended games in the 94-95 season, just 30 were found to be carrying offensive weapons!

This clearly suggests that these new powers are unnecessary and will do nothing apart from create additional antagonism between fans and police. It is also feared that these extra powers will do nothing to encourage black supporters into football grounds.


Recent figures for the Metropolitan Police District revealed that 42% of those stopped and searched in the Capital were from black or ethnic minority backgrounds, despite these groups making up only 20% of London's population.

This would seem to suggest that there is still a problem with racism in the police force, and there are fears that this would also be reflected around football grounds. (Incidentally, although 20% of professional footballers are black, it's a sad fact that ethnic minorities account for less than 1% of the crowd.)

A more publicised section of the Act outlaws certain kinds of peaceful protest. For football fans, this means that peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins such as those seen in recent years at Spurs, QPR, West Ham, Celtic and Man City could now be seen as criminal acts.

Fans could be arrested for participating in such demonstrations, or even thinking of doing so - all the police need is "reasonable suspicion" that they intend to go!

In an era where the voice of the true fans is getting drowned out by big business concerns, where ticket prices soar ever upwards, where Man United fans are thrown out for standing up at a game and crowds are forced into seats that nobody wants, it's important that fans can still express their frustrations.

In recent years, demonstrations by fans have been successful in reversing unpopular decisions by out-of-touch Chairmen. Removing this right of peaceful protest will further disenfranchise supporters from their clubs.


Fans hit by ticket tout laws

The Act also introduces new ticket tout legislation which some police have already responded to with an excess of enthusiasm. Despite a Home Office directive clearly stating that its prime intention is to outlaw the professional tout, football fans across the country have been arrested or had tickets confiscated - even though it's clear that they are not ticket touts.

Take the case of two Birmingham City fans who travelled down to Wycombe to see their team play. Their third friend couldn't make the game, so they offered his spare ticket at cost price to fellow Birmingham fans outside the away end. The police arrested them both under the Criminal Justice Act, held them for eight hours and their cases are now going through the courts.

There is the case of the Cardiff fan whose friend was taken ill before their FA Cup 1st round tie at Enfield last year. Despite the game not being all-ticket, or even sold out, he was told he would be arrested if he attempted to sell on his friend's spare ticket. In the end he had to throw the ticket away as clubs will not buy back sold tickets.

The oft-quoted argument that fans shouldn't travel to all-ticket away games unless they have a ticket is negated by the practice of many clubs openly selling away tickets on the day.

Obviously people can understand the crowd segregation problems ticket touts cause when they sell blocks of tickets to the "wrong" set of fans, but in the case of individual tickets being sold to fellow fans, where exactly is the problem? If selling on a spare ticket to another fan is a crime where is the victim? (It's also worth noting that this legislation only applies to football fans and not to any other sport or entertainment.)


DNA samples

Another section of the Act deals with new arrest procedures. At football games it's not uncommon to see officers charging into crowded terraces to pull out offenders, and most fans have stories of seeing fans being hauled out for no apparent reason.

Under the Criminal Justice Act, the right to silence is effectively abolished, undermining the presumption of innocence and possibly increasing the chances of miscarriages of justice. Sections 54-59 of the Act empower the police to forcibly take intimate samples from anyone accused of any recordable offence.

This means that if you're arrested at a match, the police can use "reasonable force" to pluck your hair or take a mouth swab which will be stored on a national DNA database - even if you're subsequently found not guilty.

This is particularly worrying for football fans as there are already recorded examples of innocent fans ending up on the National Criminal Intelligence Unit's database.

Two Welsh fans travelling to a match in Europe found themselves detained for 16 hours, handcuffed, searched, photographed and denied legal representation before being deported back to the UK, after their names had erroneously appeared on this database.


The Government tried to introduce an ID card for football fans in the eighties and, after widespread resistance, abandoned the scheme.

Now it seems the ID card is once again in favour with the government, this time using microchip technology to encode personal data in the card. A major worry is that someone mistakenly arrested at a game will later have their card "marked" and find themselves barred from future games.

All these new police powers have come at a time when domestic football has made great strides in self regulation, with a resulting dramatic decrease in incidents of arrest and violence.

Better police surveillance and intelligence, the use of club stewards, and the continuing trend of getting the actual supporters involved with stadium policing have helped to make grounds far more welcoming places.

The role of the burgeoning fanzine culture and supporters' organisations like the Football Supporters Association have helped articulate the true voice of the terraces, and have gone some way to dispel the stereotypical image of fans as hooligans.


Unfortunately, certain police forces have a deservedly bad reputation for their attitude and treatment of football fans, and many fear that the Criminal Justice Act will merely provide a platform to harass fans even more.

In an era of increased police accountability the police have to be seen to be doing something, and this new legislation could provide easy pickings for officers keen to improve their arrest figures. With football related arrests under the CJA already in the hundreds, it looks like football fans are in for a rough ride ahead come the new season.

The FFACJA believes the CJA to be a piece of legislation that will have a profound and adverse effect on the civil rights of all football fans. The campaign has been set up to warn and inform fans of the implications the Act.

Article by Mike Slocombe Copyright New Statesman 1995

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