Many clubs do good work in reaching out to young offenders via their charitable foundations, aiming to turn teenage lives around. But come matchday those same clubs and the police can take hardline approaches towards criminalising those very same youths. The FSF has kick-started a scheme which seeks to improve the situation for football clubs, the police and most importantly, fans. FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks explains more…
Every professional club has a dedicated police officer (DFO) and, in my time at the FSF, I’ve got to know some of them well and it’s fair to say there are varying approaches to dealing with young, problematic fans.
Some see the criminal justice system and a Football Banning Order (FBOs) as the only solution while others take a more nuanced approach – visiting fans at home, talking to them and their parents, and visiting schools to talk to pupils about the risks of getting involve with football disorder. Given the lack of guidance in this area, there is no real incentive for individual officers to do much more to steer younger people away from football disorder and problematic behaviour.
There is a huge gap in the market for something more sustained and targeted if football really wants to tackle certain behaviour and improve the match day experience for all.
Together with my colleague Anwar Uddin, who runs the Fans For Diversity campaign,we met up with West Midlands Police’s (WMP) football unit and the local young offending team where we presented our thoughts on this subject and had a lengthy discussion.
To WMP’s great credit, there was an immediate buy in to our thinking and they agreed to work with one of their local clubs – Walsall FC – by extending the family visits they paid to young problematic fans to something far more intensive and targeted.
With the active involvement of the Princes Trust, a series of educational workshops were put together and attended by a small group of Walsall fans, by order of the Court, after they’d been convicted of a football related offence.
These sessions, run by professionals, encouraged them to address their behaviour, the impact it has on their fellow fans, how it harmed the reputation of their club, anger management, managing peer pressure, the dangers of alcohol or substance abuse and ultimately the lifelong consequences of a criminal record and also that prison really isn’t a nice place to end up.
They also learnt how to do something which is very difficult – to walk away from trouble.
I’ve had nothing but positive feedback about this initiative and it was particularly gratifying to learn, thanks the Princes Trust, one of the young men who went through the workshops will now work with them and another succeeded in getting an interview for an apprenticeship.
Due to the success of this project, WMP are continuing with this work, involving more young people and tailoring the workshops to suit the attendees. That it got off the ground at all is fantastic, that it’s ongoing and expanding is even better.
Expanding the work
To ask if this is better than seeing only an arrest, conviction and FBO is, I’d like to think, a rhetorical question.
We’ve had conversations with other police forces about mirroring the work of WMP and Walsall FC.
It’s early days and will require a lot of goodwill and time (and maybe a bit of money too) but most of all it will mean changing twenty years of thinking that the only way to prevent or mange football related disorder is the Football Banning Order.
I really don’t see any good argument why a young man in a football ‘gang’ shouldn’t be afforded the same opportunities that he would in another context.
This isn’t about being soft on young risk or problematic fans it’s about asking that they’re treated equally by ‘the system’.
When it comes to how clubs themselves deal with problematic fans, despite many of them doing sterling work in their communities with young people or those who are disadvantaged, there is no such desire to work with their own fans, something that strikes me as somewhat ironic.
At best, in conjunction with the DFO, fans are called in to sign an Acceptable Behaviour Contract where they may get a talking to about the consequences of their behaviour.
Contrast this with the huge amount of co-ordinated and multi-agency work done around young people involved or on the periphery of ‘street’ gangs, not to say the financial resources available to those who work in this field.
I don’t seek to make or draw direct comparisons between street gangs and problematic football supporters but there certainly are common themes:
- They comprise predominantly young males
- Their behaviour is often at best ‘anti-social’
- There is a sense of belonging
- Once ‘in’ it’s very hard to get out
- There may well be an older person orchestrating the behaviour of younger people
- Alcohol and substance abuse is a contributory factor to their behaviour
I was talking to a youth worker recently who knows far more than me about these matters. I was amazed as he reeled off the options open to young people (including young adults) to help them away from the criminal justice system.
This in stark contrast to football where the prevailing thinking around football related crime and disorder is not to address an individual’s behaviour, let alone look at why young men find the idea of football violence attractive, rather the blunt and singular tool of the FBO.
That there isn’t even any cross over between the agencies he works with and police football units tells you a lot. It’s surely time to change the agenda on how problematic young fans are viewed and managed and WMP have demonstrated innovative thinking can and does work.
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:
Thanks to Thomas for the image used in this blog. Reproduced here under Creative Commons license.