Agnew’s Angle: It Was Unacceptable in the 80s

One of my previous bosses, I’ve had many – they stay for while and then go, said to me once, “Did you know that 84% of statistics are made up?” I replied “Actually it’s 91.345%” He failed to see the gag, writes David Agnew.

Wonderful thing, Statistics, as they are totally unreliable if there is bias or an inability to define the experiment/survey. An example of this is the recent report by many media sites, including this wonderful medium. Essentially you’ve got the gaffer of the National Police Football Unit, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, making all sorts of claims and giving his opinions about the rise of anti-social behaviour and football-related offences at matches. He makes some interesting claims, which can be read here.

Now, I don’t intend to debate these points again, nor indeed do I wish to re-hash the article. What I want to do is highlight something intriguing from his opinions. This season is compared to 19/20 season. This is a huge mistake, analytically speaking, and it is not useful to what is a sobering argument.

Sociologically and statistically, we can not compare this season with 19/20. This is largely and exclusively down to something called a global pandemic. This one incident and its resulting effect on just being able to walk about and do the things you like doing, has caused massive issues. It has caused fear, denial, accentuated anger and the desire to protest and glue yourself to something. Domestic Abuse and family-related crime, went massively through the roof and sadly a lot of people died and some are still ill, with a long term disease.

So why is this factor important? Well, the world in 21/22 is far different from 19/20. The no-wits that cause trouble had nothing to do for almost a year and a half (in some areas). So when they were able to get back on board and cause an issue, it was like all their Christmas’ and Birthdays’ all rolled into one.

Empty Stadiums – Credit Graham Burrell

If that wasn’t bad enough, we must not forget that some of the mindless thugs who sadly have attached themselves to our club, would have welcomed back individuals of whom have had banning orders expired. They would have ticked down as served over the time we were locked out of grounds.

So, I would argue that any figure between seasons can not be comparable, as the environmental variables were not comparable to normal seasons. We would need at least three seasons, using basic statistical forecasting, to produce something that we could look at and try to see if there is the early start of a trend. For this to hold any weight at all; then the sociological, environmental and the correct demographics of supporters also have to be comparable. Otherwise, any statistical analysis that is taken from this, would (I fear) not stand up to peer review. Also when people use massive percentage rises to try and highlight their point, ask to see the raw numbers. Certain things can increase by 100% (increase from 2 to 4). This is often used by people to sensationalise their point when actually the numerical increase isn’t anywhere as powerful.

There clearly is an issue with Football violence-related issues, but we are worlds apart from the issues experienced in the 70s and 80s. Back in those days, we had ramshackle, old and blatantly unsafe grounds. No Imps fan needs reminding of how that can contribute significantly to a tragedy. Football violence was as regular off the terraces as on them. Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’ describes the issue of said violence in graphic and unpleasant detail. This often included “fans” of the same side scrapping. It was seen up and down the country. One of the worst is when an element of the Leeds hooligan contingency totally wrecked Brighton on a weekend that they were returned to the old First Division. The Football Offences Act of 1985 was brought in to try and combat these issues and gave the authorities the ability to ban thugs from the ground. These have been used to great success since then. It did mean that fans were penned in, for safety reasons and to prevent violence.

Luton, 1985

Again, tragically, we all know how that finished.  One club, Luton Town, also banned away supporters. There was talk of ID Cards for supporters, by the then to the government and attendances at Football grounds were at an all-time low. Few families attended and the social and economic problems we had in the 70s and 80s did nothing to assist this slide. This was arrested as grounds were rebuilt, became safer and clubs began working with the police to try and stamp out the behaviour you do not want to see at a Football game. Many will say that the money the Premier League has, is disgusting, but it has also brought families back to the game. This has trickled down to the rest of the clubs. We have Football in the Community, fan zones and safe reporting numbers. People can be transferred to other areas of the ground, if they feel uncomfortable. The CCTV and evidence gathering from the clubs and police, have greatly improved and I suspect that the reasons for the increase in offences being recorded is due to this work. More people are being prosecuted – due to better evidence gathering and therefore you have more banning orders.

I have watched several interviews with Chief Constable Roberts about football-related issues. Yes, he is right to highlight the increase in offences, and the issue of behaviour that was unacceptable in the 80s as much as it is now. His approach, however, is somewhat sabre-rattling. So many of his officers do a fantastic job as Football Spotters, many of whom are fans of the club that they are policing. This very much includes our own local force. The club and them have an excellent working partnership. I would suggest that the clubs and forces across the country, maybe do not appreciate the kind of negotiating skills that would be more akin to an 80s copper trying to sell a second-hand car to old Cloughie.

So, finally what should we say about the figures released? Well now, they are indeed sobering, but please remember that when figures are released, without looking deeply at the data set, it is wise to ask questions. Organisations use figures in strange ways. Just like they like the ever so effective, Red, Amber, Green. Reality does not work in three colours. It works in the many multitudes of the spectrum. Poor and criminal behaviour at any sporting match needs to be called out. There are growing issues in Cricket, Rugby Union and League. It is not just football. 99.5% of us are there just to watch and enjoy the game, the 0.5% are there simply to ruin it for everyone else. The smaller that percentage gets, the better. This will only be achieved by fans, clubs and the police, working together.