I’ve been reading with interest the comments and fall-out from the recent Mansfield match. Alongside the debate about events on the pitch runs a rich topic of opinion on behaviour off the field too. In truth, the actions of police, fans and stewards seems to be dominating the coverage, more so than our narrow defeat against our expensively assembled local rivals.
With promotion to the Football League comes the inevitable rise in attendances and more local matches. We’re a club on the up now with a passionate fan base looking to enjoy the matches, and we’re set to meet some much bigger clubs than last season. That brings more ‘proper’ football fans to our games and lifts the interest levels to a significantly higher level than for a match with Welling.
Football encourages people to forge themselves an identity, and the presence of the 617, L.I.S.A and all the other groups at Sincil Bank go towards that. Football is, I’m afraid to say, tribal. Even in the minority groups (or current minority groups) such a female supporters, the urge to belong is irresistible. L.I.S.A has been formed for exactly the same reasons as the 617 or any of the other fans groups of old; a desire to have an identity within an identity. We are Lincoln fans and we each have our own niche within that. To a degree that accounts for me being Poacher for so long, or now writing the blog. We even like to identify with which message board we use, whether it’s Vitals, Banter or Red Imps Banter. Like it or not we’re all a member of a gang, differing in every aspect of human life apart from the football club we support. We identify with Lincoln City, and we like identify ourselves within that.
The younger football fan is looking to forge an identity too, and for impressionable youths football is a great way to introduce yourself to adult life. There’s nothing better at 16 than ‘football days’, getting together with the lads to drink a few beers and chant hate and bile at anything not wearing red and white. Back in my day it was no different, and along with the peaceful elements within that group, you get the others looking to make even more of a ‘name’ for themselves. It accounts for smoke bombs, skirmishes and intimidation of opposition support. I’m sorry, but that is a fact of life. That element have been following the club for as long as there’s been a football club in Lincoln, trouble has featured at Grimsby derby matches since the years started with an ’18’ and they’ll carry on well past 2017.
Then there’s away days, a time when even those amongst a fan base that regard ourselves as rather reserved become something else. I’ve been on some cracking away days recently, and even without violence there’s a certain thrill at invading a new place. I see red and white up and down the High Street from 11am in Lincoln without taking note, but the second you see your colours in another man’s town there is a sense of belonging, a sense of having arrived somewhere championing your cause. I imagine the same can be said for those residing amongst the livelier, more aggressive sections of support. Again, these elements are not always bad people, they’re identifying with the experience in a different way.
When those two groups come together, you get scenes such as we saw on Saturday. I don’t doubt some of the behaviour from our fans was unacceptable. The Mansfield coach was attacked, briefly, but that in itself isn’t on at all. I’ve been on a coach when it was attacked as we left Scunthorpe one year, it’s frightening and uncalled for.
Those who have studied football hooliganism on any level will known that it often becomes more prevalent in times of economic hardship, when working class young men suffer from a lack of opportunity, a lack of financial clout or just a lack of anything more attractive to do than drink and fight. 2017 isn’t a great time to be a struggling young person, or a struggling person of any sort. I don’t like the fact that behaviour becomes synonymous with the team I love, but they’re fans of the club also. They just care less about the clubs reputation as a family institution and more about the fans reputation within the football community.
Nowadays the so-called ultra group just wants to go out, have some beers, march to the ground, let off a few smoke bombs in the club’s colours and then bounce around the stadium for a couple of hours.
I think recent years have seen a clash of fan culture that even our own 617 group are struggling with. The rise of the ‘ultra’ is, at times, contrasting heavily with the old school firms. The LTE wouldn’t organise displays in the stand, they wouldn’t look for visual displays such as smoke bombs when travelling away, they were an old-school hooligan. Go to the game, have some beers, win the scrap, go home. Nowadays the so-called ultra group looks to go out, have some beers, march to the ground, let off a few smoke bombs in the club’s colours and then bounce around the stadium for a couple of hours. I truly believe the 617 are not hooligans at all, they’re a group of lads that wanted to increase the atmosphere in the ground. They’ve grown, their politics have evolved from simple atmosphere creation to the preservation of the old values and a battle against the sanitisation of the modern game. One thing that has been sanitised, not to the detriment of fans, is hooliganism. In standing up for old values of standing, drinking in the stands and following your team there is a by-product that in many it conjures up images of flying bottles, gauntlets of hate and getting a kicking from Hull City.
Many look at the 617 as embodying that culture, others attach themselves to the 617 because that is the culture they identify with. Similarly, critics of the group link them with the likes of the LTE, some of the older hooligans look at them as wannabes who’ll get a shock when they march up to Blundell Park. Let me tell you, those Grimsby boys do not care if you’re a shirt wearing fan or a card-carrying 80’s hooligan. They’ll kick you whether you like it or not.
My point is, nobody wants to see scenes of violence at football games, and nor should we have to just tolerate it. Similarly we should not label angry young people that attend football to get tanked up and sing as hooligans either. Belonging to this ‘gang’ of ours means different things to different people, and whilst L.I.S.A will find their place hosting fan’s forums and welcoming a more peaceful atmosphere, some will find their place stalking the side-streets of Sincil Bank waiting for their counterparts from Mansfield also wanting trouble. That is for the police to sort out, which brings me to a final point.
I haven’t seen the policing methods from Saturday first hand, but I’ve spoken to people who have. A picture has emerged of home fans treated like away fans, being held in a pub until just before kick off and herded to the ground like animals. I’ve heard stories of completely innocent female supporters being shoved around by police for inadvertently catching up with so-called ‘known faces’ leaving the ground. I’ve heard that despite this treatment of a core group of supporters, it was others causing trouble, fans the police clearly haven’t got marked as high-risk.
I’m concerned that the fans group responsible for so much positivity has been labelled as hooligan by our police force, just as I’m concerned many who want to be hooligans have aligned themselves with the 617 too. Almost by proxy they have become a focus for everyone, the police, other fans and those looking for trouble. Now, I’m not saying they’re saints, nor am I suggesting they’re not guilty of stirring things up a bit on away trips. When a smoke bomb was thrown into Covent Garden tube station, it was something celebrated rather than condemned by the group, and that in turn has implications with other fans. In order to retain the image of representing the working-class fan, the ‘football lads’ if you will, they won’t openly condemn some behaviour. That’s their choice, but I sometimes think an outright statement of condemnation towards some of that behaviour might decrease the pressure on the group. Instead they focus on the heavy handling by police, or the victimisation they’ve suffered.
Anyway I was looking at the smoke bomb on the pitch on Saturday and reading the comments of ‘heavy prison sentence’ or whatever. I understand flares being an issue, I understand something physically alight being an issue, and I thoroughly understand those at Bradford in 1985 having an issue. That is beyond any doubt, and anyone too young to recall that awful day shouldn’t even offer an argument against those who were. However……
Is a smoke bomb actually that bad? Sure we should stamp it out where we can, it should never be openly condoned or become the norm, but the boy from Mansfield that threw the bomb, does he deserve to go to prison? Really? Think about that, as a society we often don’t lock up a person that will break into your house and take your things, so does a kid throwing a coloured smoke bomb onto a football pitch be judged more harshly? He wasn’t outside the ground kicking people’s heads in, was he? I get the arguments about asthma, health implications and all that, but we walk past people in the street burning nicotine on a daily basis, and that smoke is actually poisonous. My point is, should a 16-year old from Mansfield really be treated as a full-time criminal just because he wanted to make a bit of name for himself with the other Mansfield fans? Yeah give him a slap on the wrists, issue a few harsh warnings, ban him for a bit if you want, but at least he was supporting his team. At most he had a yellow smoke bomb and a few angry words, not a broken bottle and six of his mates around whilst they kick a man on the ground. Let’s get some perspective.
At most he had a yellow smoke bomb and a few angry words, not a broken bottle and six of his mates around whilst they kick a man on the ground. Let’s get some perspective
I’m going to get some interesting response to this piece, I just know it. I’m not condoning those who want to fight in the name of Lincoln City, and I’m not saying it should be part and parcel of being a football fan, but it is. More to the point, it always has been and that struggle between authority and angry people continues everywhere in society, not just the back streets near a football game. It is the job of the police force and the authorities to limit the potential for that behaviour, but not by locking a load of lads in a pub. I’m not 617, I don’t agree with some of their politics but I do know them, and the ones I know don’t have a conviction for violence amongst them. Why are we hoarding them in a pub? Why are we acting aggressively to women walking down the street, and yet still fighting broke out around the ground?
Everyone has a part to play in making Lincoln City safer, from better policing method to the 617 condemning something other than poor police behaviour and not getting defensive or angry when they are questioned. There are some clever boys in the 617, university educated and hard-working lads that want to belong to a ‘scene’, but don’t want to smash the heads of Mansfield fans into a pub window We have our part too, by trying to understand which section of our fan base it is looking to be involved in the trouble, not just assuming because someone wears the clobber and has a few pints on a Saturday afternoon that they’re to blame for a problem that has existed for centuries.