Football violence has been at the forefront of some of our local media this season. Nationally we’ve seen documentaries about problems on our trains and locally we’ve seen police with dogs welcome our own fans back into the city.
What you probably won’t read anywhere other than here, www.fsf.org and a few other indie sites is this: football arrests have fallen yet again, and remain historically low levels. This comes in the wake of official Government statistics released today.
There were just 1,638 football-related arrests in 2016-17, some might say it is 1,638 too many, but when compared to 2010/11 a satisfying trend emerges. There were over 3,000 just seven years ago, showing a 47% decrease. The latest figures are a 14% from last season.
League Two does still have the highest arrest rate with 71. arrests per 100,000 attendees. The lowest rates occur in European competitions, at internationals and at Premier League matches, all averaging under 3 arrests per 100,000. That could be attributed to much higher security and police presence at larger events.
The reasons for arrest are broadly speaking as expected. Of the 1,638 football-related arrests, 31% were for ‘public disorder’ 21% violent disorder and 16% for alcohol offences. These same reasons have ranked within the top 3 offence types in each of the last 7 seasons. However, these figures alone do not tell the full story. Public Disorder offences have decreased in each of the last five seasons, from 791 in 2012/13 to 505 in 2016/17. There has been a rise in arrests for pitch incursions over the same period, from 155 to 204.
According to the Football Supporter Federation website, football related arrests actually compare favourably with other large events. Quite often you hear ‘there’s more arrests at football than horse racing’ or some other ill-informed rhetoric designed to tar football supporters. Well, that isn’t correct. There were 14 arrests at Chester Races’ May festival from 60,000 spectators, more than twice the number experienced in League Two and more than four times the number seen in the top flight. Even non-sporting events such as music festivals come out badly, Glastonbury Festival in 2017 attracted 175,000 people with 71 arrests, far more statistically than football.
In truth, football fans have long been demonised as alcohol-loving violence junkies who invade other towns looking for trouble. The 1980’s have long gone and yet the stigma is still attached to those wanting a few drinks with their mates before a game of football. Yes, passions run high at matches, language is colourful and often atmosphere is vitriolic. That doesn’t mean there will be fights, violence and large-scale disorder though and quite often it is the police response that provokes some of the reported bad behaviour. I can’t help but reference Notts County away this season. Were festival go-ers met by a wall of police dogs when they arrived at Glastonbury? How many dogs were on patrol at Chester races?
Amanda Jacks, speaking to the FSF website said: “This demonstrates how safe football is and how misleading media coverage around disorder at the football can be. It’s important to understand that the legislation around football is the most restrictive of any major past time in this county. Football fans face arrest for actions or behaviour that simply don’t exist as offences at any other event such as drinking alcohol in sight of the field of play.”
Even the number of banning orders fell once again. In 2010/11 there were 3,174 banning orders in place, compared with just 1929 in August of 2017. Those numbers have fallen year on year, once again indicating a satisfying trend within the game. League Two aren’t the worst offenders either, the Championship account for the largest proportion of banning orders in place.
The distribution of new banning orders is reported to vary each season, possibly due to teams being promoted and relegated to face local rivals. In the 2016 to 2017 season, Grimsby Town topped the table in League Two or the highest number of banning orders with 20. That accounted for a quarter of all banning orders in the division.
Wolves fans were issued the highest number of banning orders nationally (32), followed by West Ham United (30), Manchester United (24), Barnsley (22).
The Football Supporters Federation are part of an ongoing drive to battle against the stereotypes fuelled by heavy police presence on match days and the general demonization of football fans. More information about their ‘Watching Football is Not a Crime’ campaign can be found here.
My hope is local media will pick up on this and understand that the issues we’ve seen in Lincoln this season are in a minority. There were no arrests on Saturday despite it being a high-profile game, only the visit of Mansfield Town saw any level of disorder. The trip to Notts County has been discussed and well documented also, any trouble there was blown out of all proportion by the police response and the media reaction afterwards. Arrests, banning orders and the like are decreasing every year and we fit into that pattern at Lincoln City.
Watching football is not a crime, drinking a few pints before going to the game is not a crime and chanting Lincoln City songs in the street with a few mates is not a crime. The culture should be embraced, for far too many years you could walk down the High Street at 2.30pm and not know there was a match on. Lincoln City fans, in the main, are not trouble makers and nationally the story is the same.