Following Sunday’s game, I’ve been thinking about violence associated with football games and wondering if there is any way to scale it down. I want to talk about fan segregation but would like to start by telling a story about my granddad.
My granddad was in the army during the Boer War and World War 1. He was very anti-German when he went off to fight them in WWI. By the end of the war, he quite liked the Germans. One thing that had helped to change his viewpoint was that he’d worked in a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers. He’d got to know them as people and the hatred was replaced by respect.
You don’t break down barriers between people by keeping them apart. Segregating fans of different clubs doesn’t help them to respect each other. Fan segregation is counterproductive and I’m not the only one who thinks that. An article about Cologne fans sitting in the Arsenal end says:
“The authorities went to great lengths to keep different sets of supporters apart and travelling fans were kept away from their hosts inside the stadium by being placed in separate pens behind fences.
The policies did little to stop the growth and spread of hooliganism. In some ways it made the situation worse. An antagonistic “us-and-them” attitude grew; provocative behaviour and chanting on both sides of the divide went unchallenged. Ritualised abuse became part of the game, and the strict division of stadiums created flashpoints where confrontation across the barriers was a normal event.”
Given that the segregation of football fans is now the norm at higher levels of British football, is it possible to get rid of it? I’m not sure it is or how it could be done but I do have one idea. I’d like Birmingham City to consider establishing a buffer zone in the lower Gil Merrick stand, between away fans and home fans, and putting trusted fans there rather than a tarpaulin and stewards.
I love my present seat in the Kop, where I’m seated on the half way line, near pleasant people, close enough to the pitch to see players but high enough to see the whole pitch. But I’d give that seat up to try to help establish a peace zone between warring factions of fans. And I’d also accept that fans in that zone would be held to a higher standard regarding keeping the rules about not standing, not throwing objects onto the pitch, no racial abuse etc.
Eventually, I’d like to have a section that functions like the neutral zone at Craven Cottage but with a different name. However, I think that the club would need to work towards this in stages. First find out how many fans might be willing to move to such an area, and there might not be many as some would consider it risky. I wouldn’t feel at risk because I never feel like fighting and anyone looking for a fight probably wouldn’t pick on an old woman like me. It might be good to have a trial period just with home fans. Then they could offer tickets in the area to away clubs on the understanding that they were sold with special conditions attached.
I don’t know if any of this would work but it might be worth trying. I wonder if anyone else besides me would be willing to be part of the buffer.