The 617 Squadron have released a statement online detailing their side of the story amidst recent issues between themselves, the police and the local media. In truth, it is tough reading at times and borders between controlling football fans and blatant discrimination towards genuine football fans.
I’ve always tried very hard to be neutral and I will remain so, I gave the police their opportunity to put a message across recently and I’ll do the same here. Fair representation all round.
The story starts with something I was aware of, but wasn’t at liberty to publish, a march from a City Centre pub to the ground ahead of the Morecambe game. It was to be a celebration of Lincoln City returning to the Football league, something that I was interested in attending myself. I contacted a senior 617 member to say I’d like to be there and was told there were issues. I’ll let them pick up the story.
“We publish our intentions to hold a ‘Return to the Football League’ march through the city centre on the first home game back in the football league. A week or so down the line numerous members meet with the club for unrelated matters and are told after this meeting police wish to speak to us in regards to the march. A phone number is exchanged. Fast forward a few days. A member of ours speaks with the new head of Lincolnshire football department, over the phone. We are told the march cannot go ahead unless it is to take place from the Shakespeare pub. We are informed our group has been placed on a risk register alongside hooligan groups and that police will be unable to facilitate the march due to a lack of resources … We are told if the march does go ahead our members will be liable to arrest, club banning orders, confiscation of season tickets or even a criminal record.”
I’m a little surprised at the stance taken by Lincolnshire Police here. Was this not a peaceful march through the city? Remember, this is Morecambe, events that take place prior to the Notts County game and Mansfield too. Had we, as a fan base, had a reputation for trouble making the season before? Indeed, in my interview last week I was told by Lincolnshire Police that ‘five Lincoln fans were arrested in the 2016/17 season’.
Hang on, just five arrests? All season? What grounds therefore would there be to criminalise a march through the city to celebrate a return to the Football League? I don’t follow the thinking, purely as a neutral. Was there a perceived threat to people’s safety on that afternoon, if so under what precedent? The 617 continue:
“We decide to take this to the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) and they begin to have dialogue with the police on our behalf. On the evening of our ‘start of season do’ at a pub in the city centre two plain clothed officers walk into this pub and told the landlady they will be doing routine checks through the night. They made it clear to the landlady they did not want us drinking in this pub whether she did or not. Further on down the line, police threaten to remove licences of this establishment if the march goes ahead. Regardless of whether we are to drink in the establishment. If people are drunk, singing or anywhere near the establishment on the day of the march police make very clear there will be (UNLAWFUL) consequences for management and the establishment itself. Again with the intervention of the FSF some dialogue takes place and we agree to hold a meeting with one of our members and chief police officers in order to come to an agreement. At first police tried, again, to intimidate our member in to backing down. After numerous hours and our member standing firm that intimidation and unlawful tactics would not make us back down he received an apology and we were told this march could go ahead. It did and was attended by city fans from all different walks of life. Children, families, working class young men, disabled supporters, elderly supporters all came out to celebrate this clubs return to where it belongs; The Football League.”
The 617 are therefore claiming that a march was planned, police attempted to shut it down via different methods and ultimately the involvement of the FSF and the negotiations involving one of their members saw it go ahead. We’ll refer to the member as Person A, because he does become important as the story goes on. The release by the 617 this evening does ring true with information I was given at the time, both by the 617 and external individuals. I’d been aware o the FSF involvement and had brief dialogue myself with the FSF representative who, I believe, attended the march. I couldn’t attend in the end as I was selling stuff as usual, but I hear it was peaceful and well attended.
One calendar month later saw something happen that, until now, there has been something of a blackout on. Again, I’d heard first hand but didn’t witness events, today the 617 statement clarifies their position on the situation. The member referred to in this statement is Person A.
“Today a member of our group received news from the FSF and his legal team that his case had been thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence on the authorities behalf .. This was from an incident on the Mansfield Town home fixture. This member was due to be brought to court under 2 charges. Firstly, for being in possession of a bottle which police BELIEVED he was about to throw and secondly resisting a police officer in the execution of duty (Resisting arrest).”
“We would like to make some facts clear so everyone knows the truth; this member was in attendance with his 11-year-old daughter. This member was in possession of a PLASTIC water bottle he was carrying for her. This member legally refused to give his details over under section 35 as he was not obliged to however, he did accept the dispersal order which is all that is required. After refusing to hand over details he was unlawfully given a section 50 to which his response was “is it a section 35 or a 50 then?” He was then arrested. Whilst being arrested our member made very clear to police his 11-year old daughter was still inside the ground unaccompanied, as police had pulled our member out to ‘have a chat’. There were a total of 5 officers restraining our member and pepper spray had been discharged whilst he was on the floor. How can only one officer be spared to search for a missing 11-year-old girl? The officer did nothing other than ask members of our group to look for her before disappearing. Why did it take 63 minutes for police to make contact with our members wife, his daughter’s mother, to tell her to come to the ground and pick her up due to her husbands arrest? Why, when asking police where to find her daughter, was the response “we’re not sure, we know she’s somewhere inside the ground.” Why were 20 officers and a dog unit deployed prior to the match to the Shakespeare pub on the high street at around 2:30pm to ‘escort’ our group a few hundred yards down a straight road that leads directly to the ground when opposing ‘risk supporters’ were on a different route entirely? In our 6 year existence that has never happened. In reality this was nothing more than a move to harass, antagonise and attack our members.”
Harsh stuff, where to begin? I won’t comment on the reasons for arrest, there’s a statement pictured which covers the situation and I believe as it is the public domain already I’m okay to run with it. My concern here as a normal fan is an 11-year old girl being left alone in a football stadium whilst her father is arrested, lawfully or unlawfully. Having not bore witness to events it is hard to comment on the reasons pepper spray was used, but as a fan at the game I didn’t see any disorder that would require such a measure. It worry’s me that a father taking his daughter to a game of football can end up being separated from her and pepper sprayed without justification. Furthermore, don’t forget this arrest has been thrown out of court today. Ultimately it appears an innocent football fan was separated from his daughter, sprayed with pepper spray and arrested without reason. I’m a neutral here, I’m trying to play devil’s advocate as I always do, but it doesn’t make comfortable reading. remember, in the days after this event it was recorded as disorder amongst Lincoln fans with arrests being made.
Next up; Notts County at home. Something I did witness first hand and do feel in a position to comment on. I’ll let the 617 statement pick up the story.
“Notts County away was a magnificent occasion which saw over 4000 Imps travel. The day passed with no disturbance with rival supporters or any authority figures (whilst in Nottingham) The group co-operated on the day with police who had a hands off approach when policing. Nottingham police were able to comfortably deal with a large contingent of around 100-150 so-called ‘risk’ supporters (our group) with only two officers escorting us through the city centre. The only trouble of the day takes place at Lincoln train station upon our return. Imps fans were singing and dancing on the platforms of Nottingham train station after a 4-1 defeat. A number of Lincolnshire police officers, who have been absent throughout the day, arrived on the scene. Shortly afterwards British Transport Police (BTP) moved in with four dog units in an attempt to antagonise city fans. We can only assume that after a trouble-free day with Nottingham police, our own police force had a part to play in this decision to deploy dog units in close proximity of Lincoln fans, many of whom were families and children. The train arrives, Lincoln fans board without issue and return to home.”
I can pick up the story here for a short while, I was on the platform and I did witness the events unfold. In an attempt to get back to the train I actually left the ground a few seconds early, after all we’d been soundly beaten. We arrived on the platform with it being mostly empty, one train had just departed and we waited for another one. The atmosphere wasn’t nasty but as the crowd grew, police presence grew to. I did see a beer can thrown and that did cause police to increase in numbers. I’ll admit, I did think the situation felt as though it was about to explode, but the train arrived and we got on it. On the train I heard and saw nothing untoward, I wasn’t in the carriage which the ‘trouble’ occurred but on alighting the train I didn’t see any behaviour that caused me any concern and, after all, I am not one for fighting and confrontation. over to the 617.
“Upon arrival back to Lincoln train station the same four BTP dog units were outside the train station with their dogs. They antagonise Lincoln fans after people question why they are there. They tell numerous people to ‘make my day, go on’. A can is thrown in the direction of police. Instead of taking the decision to remove the person responsible BTP take the decision to set about a large crowd with their dogs and are met with resistance. Back up is called. Seemingly every officer in the city attends within seconds, almost as if they were waiting for such a situation. A taser is fired up and pointed wildly at the heads and torso of anyone and everyone by a member of Lincolnshire police force. Lincolnshire police follow this up with a statement of lies in writing as seen pictured – The reasoning for the deployment of these BTP officers and Lincolnshire police is due to a fight that breaks out on a train an hour after the incident with BTP takes place. Apparently not only can officers of the law act in what ever unlawful manner they please, they can also see into the future. “We are aware that a fight broke out on the second train back between Lincoln fans and there was further disorder at the railway station with objects and barriers being thrown”.Firstly eye witnesses on the second train confirmed this ‘fight’ to be nothing more than an argument over before it even began between two women. Secondly BTP and Lincolnshire police acted in the manner they did towards the first train load because of disorderly behaviour on the second train where ‘objects, including barrier'” were ‘being thrown’. “We will have to continue to spend significant taxpayers funds seeking to minimise the threat of crime and disorder”. These are funds that apparently were not available and as such could not facilitate a 400 strong march through a pedestrianised city centre involving the crossing of one main road.”
The group is angry and with just cause one would imagine. They’re not trying to claim complete innocence, ‘a can was thrown’ is a frank admission that there was provocation. I remember remarking on Nottingham station why, if a can was thrown, did the police not move in. I’m not a police officer though and I would be out-of-order commenting on their crowd control tactics. I did see the fracas on the High Street and I commented at the time that I felt it was a heavy-handed approach. There had been no large-scale violence in Nottingham, nothing but a bit of anti-social behaviour on the platform and nothing I’d call trouble upon our return. The situation, whatever anyone might say, was not handled as I personally would expect it to be as an innocent fan. It actually terrifies me that if, as a slightly inebriated football fan, I’d chosen to continue up the High Street and not get an immediate lift home, I could have been on the receiving end of a taser. This in my own city after attending a football match elsewhere. I can see how tension had escalated since the arrest of Person A the week before, especially given the rather questionable circumstances surrounding it. There are two more points in the 617 statement I’d like to highlight. First of all, a message for the local paper.
“A message to the Lincolnshire Echo. You have made very clear your sole purpose is not to report factually on altercations or incidents that happen at football. Your sole purpose is to over sensationalise, lie and put a nail in the coffin of our proud fan base. You seek to make divisions grow larger and capitalise on any given chance to do so. You write one-sided stories blaming city fans for disorder with authorities yet print no accounts from eyewitnesses. You have lost your way as a News outlet and we would urge anyone reading this to boycott your ‘newspaper’ entirely. One or two good stories when pressured by our fan base after a years worth of demonising will not cut it, you have made your bed, lay in it.”
I’ve questioned the balance of news reporting myself in the past, although I don’t agree the Echo’s sole purpose is to ‘sensationalise, lie and put a nail in the coffin of our proud fan base’. I believe they now exist purely to attract clicks and nobody wants to read about football fans behaving. Hooliganism has always been a big draw for papers and it is no different in 2017 than 1977. However, the impact that is having is severe, especially when you consider that the events of recent weeks have barely warranted a footnote. The reporting for Port Vale really angered me personally, putting a video of Leeds hooligans fighting abroad next to a story that featured nothing more than a couple of regurgitated tweets, an incident that was so serious just fifteen minutes later the Port Vale fans involved were alone on the High Street trying to get into Weatherspoon’s. No police escort, no dogs or tasers or pepper spray, just eight blokes with a carrier bag full of tins and a few knock-off Stone Island jackets. That warranted a news article and a video of Leeds fans fighting. It isn’t sensible reporting and it doesn’t help the situation at all.
The second is a statement, a suggestion perhaps which I shall reproduce but not comment on.
“In the process of the court case dismissed today our specialist football solicitor received word from a reliable source that Lincs Police receive £3500 in funding per banning order. That means our police force, that in its own words “could not facilitate a march through the city centre” of around 400 people due to a “lack of funding” is going to receive funding for any banning orders they make. Combine this with the abuse of power shown so blatantly by police in the lead up to the march. Mansfield at home, County away, it is plain to see just why so many arrests, none of which have resulted successfully to date in a court of law, are being made.”
It is clear that there is a situation between the 617 and the police, something that will only be exasperated by today’s statement. However, the lads do have a right to speak and given the case being thrown out of court I believe they should get their story across. As a law-abiding citizen I am always taken to respecting authority and believing what I’m told to do. My granddad (may he rest in peace) was a high-ranking officer in Lincoln throughout the sixties and seventies, he may even have been a Superintendent (I’m not actually sure). I have no beef with the police, I do not believe ‘ACAB’ and I’ll always walk away rather than confront. However, I also believe very firmly there are two sides to every story and if one blindly believes what he is told by authority then he is a fool.
Where do we go from here? Hopefully these hostilities between a passionate fans group whom I have not known to indulge in violence and the police whose job it is to protect the public, will cease. Somehow, I can’t see it happening.