The United Kingdom is perceived by virtually all observers in Europe, and by football fans themselves, as having had the earliest and most most severe problems with football hooliganism. Certainly, it is the only nation to have received a blanket expulsion from all European Football competitions – a ban that was initially made for an indefinite period following the Heysel Stadium tragedy in which 39 Juventus fans died when a wall collapsed after clashes with Liverpool supporters.
It is perhaps because of this unenviable record that the United Kingdom has taken the lead in the development of control measures to deal with hooliganism. These measures are closely examined in the first part of this chapter, where we trace the various strategies adopted by the British police, as well as the legislative responses of the British government. As we shall see, the various strategies and responses have been primarily reactive and, increasingly, have been influenced (if not entirely led) by technological developments, such as the use of closed-circuit television and computer databases.
Such advances have certainly helped the flourishing collaboration between the member states of Europe in tackling hooliganism. The European Parliament, however, has become increasingly concerned about the use of such technology, particularly in relation to the issue of the free movement of individuals across member state boundaries.
Finally, the chapter focuses on some of the more proactive responses to football hooliganism. In particular, we look at the phenomenon of the 'fan projects', which originated in Germany in the seventies and which have been swiftly imitated by many other countries in Europe, including Belgium and The Netherlands.
Policing football hooliganism
The principal difficulty for the police in dealing with football hooliganism has been in differentiating between the hooligan and the ordinary football supporter. This difficulty led to the police developing a system whereby all fans were contained, both inside the ground and in travelling to the ground. At the same time, the second primary strategy of the police was the undercover operation: an attempt to ascertain who exactly the hooligans were.
The undercover operation
The English Football Association recommended that plain clothes officers be used in the domestic game as far back as the mid-sixties and requests for the police to infiltrate travelling supporters with plain clothes officers were also made by the Football Association in 1981. The belief of the police (torridly supported by the media) by the 1980s was that football hooligans had transformed themselves from an ill-organised mob into highly-organised forces with a complex network of hierarchies1
Officers were given new identities and instructed to live the life of a hooligan and mingle with other hooligans. These tactics resulted in the launch of numerous early morning raids on the homes of suspected football hooligans from around March 1986. Armstrong and Hobbs detail a familiar pattern in the arrest and charging of suspects in these raids.
The suspects would generally be part of an organised gang that had apparently caused mayhem throughout the country; they would have a 'calling-card' which would normally be displayed on or left beside their victim; they would have used an array of weaponry (which the police nearly always displayed to the media in the post-arrest briefing) and they would often possess incriminating literature (although on one occasion, this included a copy of an academic book on football hooligans entitled Hooligans Abroad).
Charges and convictions
On most occasions, individuals arrested in these raids were charged with conspiracy to cause affray or conspiracy to commit violence, with what they had said to the police and what the police had found in their homes being used as the primary evidence against them.
Many of the raids resulted in high-profile trials and convictions. (e.g. The eighteen-week trial of four Chelsea fans which cost over £2 million and resulted in sentences including one of ten years). But many also failed in sometimes dramatic circumstances, with the reliability of evidence being intensely disputed and the behaviour of undercover officers severely condemned2
Containment and escort
A common sight in the seventies (and for much of the eighties) was that of the police escorting visiting supporters from railway and coach stations to and from the ground. Fans were literally surrounded by police, some on horseback and others with police dogs. In contrast, the nineties has seen the use of the less confrontational tactic of posting officers at specified points en route to the ground.
This is, perhaps, more to do with the recent circumstances of away fans than with the police entirely changing their tactics. It has certainly been the case that travelling away support has dwindled, to the extent that the familiar en masse arrival of football fans at British Rail stations around the country on a Saturday lunchtime is, perhaps, a sight of the past.
The police, however, have still been heavily criticised in some quarters for an over-zealous approach in dealing with travelling supporters 3 , such as conducting unnecessary searches of coaches for alcohol and even searching supporters' belongings in their absence, though in a recent fan survey, only 20.7% of supporters disagreed with the use of police escorts4, stressing their use as effective protection for away fans.
Inside the ground
The visiting (or 'away') fans were invariably herded into grounds via separate turnstiles and into areas where they were segregated from the home support. These isolationist operations were often eemphasised by a line of police officers separating the home and away fans in a sort of "no man's land" and by the high metal fences which surrounded these fan pens, an attempt to prevent fans from spilling onto the football pitch itself. 5
The police have also been commonly used at the turnstile. Traditionally, this has been a law-enforcement role, with the emphasis on preventing illegal entry into the ground, enforcing exclusion orders and searching supporters for weapons and other prohibited articles.
But they have also been used by clubs to enforce club policy and ground regulations, such as enforcing club bans and membership schemes and deterring fraud by turnstile operators 6. More recently, the role of the Steward has come to the fore at football grounds, which has partly relieved the responsibilities of the police in this area.
Police tactics at grounds
While the use of en masse containment alongside covert detective operations has been the basic pattern of policing football hooliganism, police tactics can vary considerably at individual football grounds, as indeed they do on other matters. Such tactics can depend on various factors including the prospective size of the crowd, the relative profile of the particular match, the reputation of the supporters involved and the priorities of the local force involved.7
The inconsistencies between different police forces in their approach to dealing with football supporters was highlighted in The Home Office Affairs Committee report, Policing Football Hooliganism (1991) which recognised that:
" … different police forces and, within police forces, the different police Commanders were inconsistent. A variety of witnesses complained of these inconsistencies. The FSA [Football Supporters Association] told us that 'acceptable behaviour at one ground could be an arrestable offence at another' … [and] different Ground Commanders had different approaches to policing the same ground".
The decline of the 'away' fan
In the Premier league in particular, demand for tickets has risen considerably while ground capacities have declined across the board due to the introduction of all-seater stadia. The expanding interest in football has also led to an increasing commercial interest in the game and, subsequently, an increase in corporate facilities to the detriment of the traditional fan. For example, 14,000 corporate guests were present at the England versus Scotland match during the Euro '96 championships8.
Thus, there is now less room for the away fans than ever before, with clubs obviously favouring their own home support above that of away fans. Six out of ten of the national sample of FA Premier League fans said that they would travel to more games if more tickets were made available to them.
It could be suggested that policing at football grounds has been made easier by the decline of away support. However, the past tendency of fans towards en masse travelling when away from home has been replaced by a proclivity towards independent travel, which is, perhaps, more difficult to police. Group travel still occurs and the police regularly escort away fans in coaches, via specified rendezvous points. Indeed, the Traffic Commissioner has outlined specific guidelines to the police on dealing with the travel arrangements of fans, such as recommending that coaches should arrive at the ground no more than two hours before the designated kick-off time.
The nineties has also seen a shift away from using police to control fans inside the ground, with clubs relying more and more on Stewards, employed by the clubs themselves. This is certainly the principal reason why the ratio of police to fans has declined from 1:74 in 1985 to 1:132 in 1992 10. Indeed, Scarborough Football Club played most of their home games without a single police officer inside the ground. Other, more high-profile clubs, such as Aston Villa, Chelsea and Leicester City are increasingly relying on Stewards to police the stadium.
Police officers can only eject individuals from grounds if they are breaking the law, whereas Stewards can follow a particular club's agenda and eject people for breaking club and ground rules. The Home Office report on policing football (1993) recommends that the police leave the task of ejecting supporters to the Stewards. But the ability of Stewards to deal with disorder inside grounds has been severely questioned, not least by the Channel Four programme Dispatches in October 1994. There is also evidence suggesting the disposition of Stewards towards the home fans and
"… on rare occasions stewards have provocatively celebrated home goals in front of the away fans and even attacked them" 11
Training of Stewards
There is no national standard for the training of Stewards in crowd control and spectator safety or, indeed, any legislative requirement that clubs should provide such training for Stewards. The Taylor Report12 highlighted the lack of training for Stewards and Garland and Rowe further suggest that Stewards do not have the traditional authority that the police possess.
"As crowd safety is increasingly handed over to football club Safety Officers, these [Police] skills will need to be passed on to avert future tragedies … where the responsibility for public safety is handed over to Stewards, the police should ensure that adequate training and briefing has taken place."
Closed-circuit Television (CCTV) and hand-held cameras
CCTV was introduced into football grounds around the middle of the 1980s and is now present in almost every Premier and football league ground. The effectiveness of such camera surveillance has also been improved by the introduction of all-seater stadia across the country. 13 Certainly, the results of fan surveys suggest that the introduction of CCTV is, for the most part, welcomed by supporters. Indeed, the Home Office report (1993) states that
"…football supporters are probably more accustomed to being subjected to camera surveillance than most other groups in society."
Another technological feature of police tactics at football grounds is the use of hand-held video cameras, with police filming supporters, primarily in a bid to deter violence, gather intelligence and monitor the efficacy of crowd control.
A further technological advance was the 'photophone' system that allowed the police to exchange photographs of football hooligans from CCTV and other sources via telephone and computer links, allowing vital information to be readily available to the police on matchdays.
Advances in technology have also aided the police in both overt and covert surveillance operations. The Hoolivan was launched at the beginning of the season that followed the plethora of incidents in the spring of 1985. This hi-tech item of machinery enabled police to maintain radio contact with all officers inside and outside the ground and to be linked with the CCTV cameras in and around the stadium.
The Hoolivan tended to be used at high-profile matches or when the police were concerned about a particular set of supporters. During Euro '96, Greater Manchester police used a Hoolivan known as the 'skyhawk', which contained nine hydraulic cameras, each of which could be raised up to thirty feet in height.
1985: Bradford & Heysel
The events of the spring of 1985 proved to be a watershed, both for the image of English soccer as well as for governmental and police responses to football violence. At Bradford, 56 people were killed by a fire in the ground. Serious disorder occurred at the grounds of Birmingham City, Chelsea and Luton Town and, most significantly, Liverpool fans were seriously implicated in the deaths of 39 Italian fans prior to the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus at The Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
The Football Spectators Act (1989)
The Bradford fire and the subsequent report by Justice Popplewell in 1986 raised awareness of the vital issue of spectator safety at football grounds and, in particular, re-introduced the issue of identity cards for football fans. (Though in his final report, he recommended that membership schemes should not be made compulsory.) But it was not until four years later, in 1989, that the government responded to the disorderly incidents of 1985 with the introduction of the Football Spectators Act.
The Football Licensing Authority
The Football Licensing Authority (FLA) was also established under the Football Spectators Act and it is responsible for awarding licences to premises that admit spectators to watch football matches. Though receiving its funding from central government, it retains an independent function and has considerable powers. Not least, it has the capacity to close a stadium.
Identity card and membership schemes
The main proposals of the Act concerned the introduction of compulsory identity cards for spectators at every league, cup and international match played in England and Wales. Throughout the sixties and seventies, various clubs had experimented with their own membership schemes in an attempt to prevent 'unwanted' fans from entering their grounds.
The government and, in particular, the Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, strenuously backed the use of identity cards and reciprocal membership schemes as the most effective way of enforcing exclusion orders at football grounds.
Indeed, even before the Football Spectators Act (1989) had been finalised, the Football League had agreed with the government to introduce membership schemes at all clubs, though clubs were slow to implement the recommendations, with only thirteen League clubs (out of ninety two) actually satisfying government requirements by the initial deadline date of August 198716. A survey of police views on membership schemes revealed that 40% did not favour them. In the event, legislation imposing compulsory identity cards was shelved in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, when Justice Taylor condemned such schemes in his final report.
The Taylor report
On the 15th April 1989, ninety-five Liverpool fans were crushed to death on the terraces at the Hillsborough Stadium during the F.A. Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The subsequent report by Lord Justice Taylor was the ninth such inquiry into crowd safety and control at football matches in the United Kingdom.
Prior to the Hillsborough disaster, the techniques used in crowd control had become virtually synonymous with the control of football hooliganism, with the segregation of supporters, high perimeter fencing and a high-profile presence being among the primary tactics of the police and the clubs.
The interim report
The interim report from Lord Taylor was published relatively swiftly after the tragedy, in August 1989. It contained forty-three separate recommendations which were designed to be immediately implemented by all football league clubs (N. B. the Premier League had yet to be formed) by the beginning of the forthcoming season, 1989/90.
The principal recommendations of the interim report were:
A review of the terrace capacities in all grounds, with an immediate 15% reduction in ground capacities
Restrictions on the capacities of self-contained supporter pens
The opening of perimeter fence gates
A review of the Safety Certificates held by all Football League grounds
The creation of locally-based, multi-agency groups to advise on ground safety
Constant monitoring of crowd density by the police and Stewards
The final report
The final report was published in January 1990 and included praise from Lord Taylor regarding the response of clubs to the recommendations contained within the Interim report. The report emphasised the lack of communication between the fans and the football authorities, criticising, in particular, the lack of facilities for supporters at football grounds and the poor condition of football grounds. In total, the final report contained seventy-six recommendations, of which the main ones were:
The conversion of all football league grounds to all-seater stadia by the end of the millennium
The removal of spikes from perimeter fencing, which should be no more than 2.2 metres in height
Ticket-touting to become a criminal offence
The introduction of new laws to deal with offences inside football stadia, including racial abuse
The insistence of the report that football grounds become all-seater placed an unprecedented financial burden on even the richest football clubs in the football League. There were certainly severe critics of such a recommendation and censures were not only made on purely financial grounds. Simon Inglis18 argued that terraced grounds exist throughout the world and do not cause problems and that tragedies such as Hillsborough are more judiciously explained by an examination of the behaviour and control of spectators. In a survey of members of the Football Supporters' Association19 the majority of those surveyed were opposed to all-seater grounds. Lord Taylor admitted in the report that:
"There is no panacea which will achieve total safety and cure all problems of behaviour and crowd control. But I am satisfied that seating does more to achieve those objectives than any other measure."20