Our casework inbox at the FSF throws up a wide range of disputes and fans seeking assistance or advice in relation to complaints with their club. Some cases can be solved with a quick bit of correspondence or a phone call or two; others can drag out over several months, or even years. Occasionally, we need to put fans in touch with specialist legal help.
In this blog Tom, a Charlton fan, gives us his experience of the sort of help the FSF can provide, and the value of seeking legal advice.
I have been a season ticket holder at The Valley since I was eight years old, and I have travelled all the way from Hartlepool to Exeter to follow my team. I went to Fulham v Charlton Athletic at Craven Cottage on a Saturday in late February 2016, sitting in the away end. We were approaching the back-end of a miserable season under the Duchatelet regime, and Charlton’s relegation to the third tier for the second time in eight seasons seemed all but unavoidable.
With roughly 10-15 minutes to go, and Charlton trailing 3-0, I threw my protest scarf on to the pitch in frustration, and went to leave the ground. As I was leaving, a steward grabbed my arm, with another steward shortly joining him to grab my other arm.
I was not particularly concerned at this point; I thought I would either be ejected from the ground or administered a time-frame ban from Craven Cottage.
The steward on my right arm was holding my shoulder blade and wrist, whilst the steward on the left was holding my arm in one hand and gripping my fingers together in his other hand.
I asked the steward to let go of my fingers. He preceded to twist my finger and pull it back back whilst I was restrained, which broke a bone in my left index. I feel obliged to say that at no point did I resist being restrained or use any threatening, intimidating or racist language. The police records confirm this.
I was then handed over to the police and arrested for “throwing a missile on to the playing area”, whilst my complaints about the steward were ignored. The arresting officer sought to justify my arrest on the basis that it was necessary to investigate the offence and to prevent me causing harm to myself or others, despite my admission of the offence and co-operation with stewards. I was taken to Wandsworth police station and processed (DNA, mugshot, fingerprints). As part of this, I was asked if I would like a doctor. I said yes, and again spoke about the steward and my finger. I was then put in a cell.
After several hours, I asked if I could tape my left index to my middle finger, to provide some rudimentary protection. My request was refused. I was released on police bail around 1am; medical assistance was not provided at any point.
I spent five hours in St George’s Hospital A&E in Tooting the day after the game, who confirmed the fractured finger and strapped it up. I then contacted the FSF for assistance, as I had little knowledge of what to do next.
The FSF provided a lawyer free of charge for my bail hearing, who successfully argued the case. The police did not press charges, and several officers expressed some form of embarrassment as to the pettiness of the whole scenario.
I was then put on to some civil lawyers (ITN Solicitors). They informed me that I had a case against the police as a result of unnecessary arrest (I was told they could, and should, have released me at the ground), false imprisonment and aggravated damages, as well as a case against Fulham FC, as it was a steward who had caused the injury.
I was continually informed on the police records by my lawyers throughout the process. Vague and laughable statements appeared in the official police case files, such as someone in the Fulham section allegedly witnessing me place a more menacing (but undefined) object in my scarf, and then using it as a slingshot to target a player. The video of the scarf lamely flopping on to the corner of the playing area, whilst the only player in that half at the time was the goalkeeper, clearly demonstrates that some aspects of the police records were pure fabrications.
After about a year and a half of deliberation, the Met offered an initial £2,500 settlement. This subsequently rose to £5,000 and an apology, expressing "regret for the distress that you have suffered... and for the failings of the Metropolitan Police Service" which I accepted in August 2017.
Fulham initially denied any responsibility. After the police settlement, once it was clear that I had a case, they passed all responsibility to Wise Security – a company that they contract to cover some match day stewarding. Fulham also directly employ some of their own stewards.
What ensued was a continuous back-and-forth between Fulham FC and Wise Security regarding responsibility and liability depending on which steward it was and who directly employed them. Two and a half years after the incident occurred, perhaps once it was clear to Fulham and Wise that I was not going to let it lie, I eventually received an offer from Wise Security insurers (Aviva) for a £4,000 settlement several weeks ago.
I accepted the offer without negotiation, wishing to draw a line under the whole episode. I was not expecting an apology, and their compensation offer was an admission of fault regardless, which was enough for me at a stage where we were edging ever closer to formally issuing proceedings.
I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to both my criminal and civil lawyers, who assisted me immensely throughout this process. I also owe many thanks to the FSF, too, as they were the only organisation to take my voice seriously from the beginning.
Any football fan knows that, despite being the lifeblood of the game, English football fans are routinely mistreated, disregarded and discriminated against.
Although it may be intimidating fighting a case against a major institution like the Metropolitan Police, or an infinitely wealthy organisation such as a Premier League football club, I have learned that when you are wronged, there are organisations and people out there who can be of enormous help, and who can successfully fight your case. Do not be discouraged, seek help, and don’t give up.
Watching Football Is Not A Crime! is part of the FSF's ongoing drive to monitor the police in their dealings with football fans and work with them to ensure that all fans are treated fairly and within the law. You can contact FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks via:
The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.
Thanks to PA Images for the picture used in this blog.