This blog is by Amanda Jacks of the Football Supporters Federation
What do paedophiles, terrorists and football supporters have in common?
The State has the power to remove their passports and in the case of supporters, they can do so in two different ways: either by application on conviction of a football related offence or by a civil application made by a Police Chief Constable to a magistrates court.
In both cases the surrender comes under the terms and conditions of a Football Banning Order (FBO) and occur when either the supporters’ club or country play abroad. Ahead of last year’s World Cup, passports had to be handed over to police some ten days ahead of the tournament and, regardless of how far England progressed, would be kept until it was over. It’s been calculated that if your team are in a European competition and England are playing qualifiers or friendlies, you could be without your passport for 90 days in a year. Whether you’ve ever followed club or country, outside of these shores is immaterial, it’s a blanket condition. Ahead of the recent Ireland v England friendly played in Dublin, not only did those serving FBOs have to surrender their passports, they also had to report to their local police station the morning of the match – just so the police could be doubly sure they hadn’t managed to sneak out the country.
An FBO can impose severe restrictions on movement preventing you from being within a certain radius of a football stadium (upto 5 miles) or in some cases prevent you using the rail network. Given a court has to be satisfied that granting an application for an FBO will contribute towards the reduction of football related violence, you’d be forgiven for thinking that applications on conviction are only made if a supporter has been found guilty of violent disorder or affray but it’s our experience that the police/CPS will submit an application regardless of the offence with which the supporter has been charged and whether or not they’ve got a criminal record, let alone previous convictions for football related offences. In one of the more questionable cases we’ve been involved in, a supporter was charged with missile throwing after chucking his fancy dress trousers in the air. He had a clean record yet would have faced an FBO application had he been convicted but thanks to vigorous efforts by his solicitor the charge was dropped.
When it comes to civil applications, the Police may present evidence to the Court upto ten years old in the hope that the court will be persuaded that granting the application will prevent individuals from causing or contributing to disorder. The supporters may not necessarily have a criminal conviction. I’ve attended court on several occasions to observe proceedings and the strength of the evidence varies. In some cases, the police are able to present strong cases, including CCTV footage of fans being involved or in close proximity to disorder but in just as many cases, the applications are based on little more than association with other ‘risk’ fans and ejections from stadiums for breaking ground regulations. In fact, some of the applications beg the question why individuals haven’t been arrested and charged with a criminal offence.
When supporters are served with a civil application approach us for advice, the one thing they all have in common is the account they give when the police turn up at their doorstep with legal papers. I’ve been told time and time again that the police tell fans not to bother taking legal advice, it’ll be too costly, they won’t get legal aid, if they contest the application, it’ll cost them thousands, or the original application for a three year ban will become a five year ban. Thankfully, this “advice” isn’t always adhered to and fans contact us and are advised – free of charge – on the merit of contesting the application.
It’s a frequent boast by the authorities that FBOs have transformed the behaviour of the English fan both here abroad and played a major part in the more or less complete reduction of ugly scenes that so tarnished the reputation of our supporters. However, there are three notable academics in the field of football policing and legislation (Messrs Pearson, Stott and James) and if you read their work – all freely available online – it paints a somewhat different picture. None of them say that FBOs haven’t played their part but the true picture takes into account many other factors, primarily policing, conditions and the changing demographic of fans. They will also argue that the effectiveness of the banning order has never been properly measured.
For whatever reason, the narrative of the authorities that banning orders work in preventing ‘hooliganism’ (let alone the draconian implications of serving a ban) is very rarely challenged by the media or even those who champion civil liberties meaning there is little scrutiny in their application. It’s also the case, again as I’ve witnessed, that the judiciary doesn’t always apply the proper tests when considering applications for Football Banning Orders. Thankfully the FSF are able to rely on an excellent legal team who will give initial advice free of charge; we can’t though prevent football fans being subjected to the same reach of the state as terrorists and paedophiles.
Amanda.firstname.lastname@example.org / 07703 519555