Policing football matches

I was thinking of writing about some 1956 semi-final memories but a YouTube video has sparked a different set of darker memories.  The video by Davo (see link below) shows Birmingham City fans surrounded by police after the match at King Power Stadium yesterday evening.  Our fans sounded good humoured (“I’d rather be a sausage than an egg” is not the angriest of football chants) but I was disturbed by the sight of long lines of police and the sound of their dogs barking.

Sometime in the 1970’s my dad stopped going to football matches because of crowd trouble.  I had stopped going long before that and stayed away for over 20 years while I went to university, got a job and then went abroad. I only went to one game in the 1980’s: the last game of the season in May, 1982.  I was back in England with my American husband and a trip to Coventry seemed like a great way to expose him to British culture.

We spent the morning looking at the cathedral and went to the game at Highfield Road in the afternoon. My favourite moment of the match was Harford’s goal about 5 minutes before the end, which won the game and kept Birmingham from being relegated.  My husband’s favourite was when a diminutive policewoman stopped a fan running across the pitch. She stuck her arm out and he ran straight into it, hitting his neck and collapsing in a heap. We had seats in an upper tier along one side and I can remember that the people behind us asked us to sit down when we stood up for an exciting bit.  A few seats away from us, a group of men stood up for most of the game and nobody was brave enough to ask them to sit down. This group confirmed their toughness at the end of the game when they tore the wooden backs off their seats and departed brandishing them like weapons. After the game, the police surrounded the Blues fans and marched them back to the railway station. Nothing very terrible happened but it was enough to help me understand why my dad had stopped going to football games.

I did once see police on horseback charging fans on Cattell Road after a game at St Andrew’s. I don’t remember who we had played or when it was.  I just remember how big horses look when they are charging and that the men they were charging had been walking along minding their own business a few minutes before.

I’m sad that there are still incidents where the police behave in an unreasonably confrontational way.  At the protest against the policing of the Huddersfield vs Hull fixture in March, a 15 year-old boy said this:

“I’m only 15 but I’m already tired of being treated like a second class citizen just because I follow football.  I’ve been knocked over by a police horse, been threatened and bullied, kept on trains against my will and have seen fans antagonised by the very people who are supposed to keep the peace.” (Click here for link.)

I realise that some football fans are violent and need controlling. However that is no reason to treat all football fans as criminals. There surely has to be a better way.

Leicester vs Birmingham post-match