Is fan violence on the up? Supporter views on attending football matches

The father of a 15-year-old girl who was injured at a Carabao Cup match said behaviour of fans at football grounds is getting worse.

His daughter was scarred for life when she was struck on the head with a pint glass filled with coins during Manchester City’s Carabao Cup tie with Liverpool last month.

“It is absolutely febrile,” he said, adding that going to big away games can feel like “running the gauntlet”.

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the UK’s Football Policing Unit lead, said on Thursday there is a “worrying level of disorder” at football matches after a report showed 999 arrests were made between 1 July and 31 December 2022, a 10% increase on the same period last year.

But Michael Brunskill, from the Football Supporters’ Association, said it is important to put incidents into context and wouldn’t want to portray football as the “wild west”.

There were 2,198 football-related arrests during the 2021-22 season, the highest number since the 2013-14 season, according to Home Office figures.

A law introduced in 2022 stated fans will receive an automatic club ban for invading the pitch after concerns were raised about safety at grounds following a number of incidents at the end of last season.

BBC Sport hears from a selection of fans about their experiences of going to football matches.

‘It’s absolutely febrile’


Daniel, who attends Manchester City matches with his family, said the atmosphere at games is getting more hostile, having seen his daughter hit on the head with a weighted pint glass at a match last month.

“I’ve been going to football games for 30 years and I’ve never experienced a football environment like we have at the moment,” he said.

“I was at the Euro final in 2021 and my stepson got hit on the head by an empty can of beer walking up Wembley Way. It’s febrile and it is different, and anyone who says that it isn’t either doesn’t go to a lot of football or isn’t close enough to the game to understand the change.

“It would be too broad to say it’s got worse everywhere but big games, it’s absolutely febrile.

“We’re going to the Manchester derby but we’ll be in the away end and I know that it’s going to be like running the gauntlet.

“At big games, it’s always been like that but it does feel back to how I remember the early 1990s was to me.

“I remember being in a cage at Cambridge in the home end to keep us in and there was a sense that football fans were a different breed – but I felt it had become a family game, a more family sport.

“Now, it feels like it’s got worse to me. The big games feel even more tense.”

However, he says his daughter has not been put off going to matches following the incident at Etihad Stadium, for which both clubs apologised for, but for which the person responsible has not yet been identified.

“Both clubs after the event were brilliant, in terms of how they have dealt with it and how seriously they have taken it, along with the police and both sets of fans.

“We’re still trying to identify the person that did it but she [his daughter] seems fine physically, She hasn’t been back to the ground yet but she’s desperate to go back and she’s watched every match since on the telly.”

‘Aggression seems to be growing’


Emily, a Port Vale fan who travels home and away with her 14-year-old son to watch their side, said: “Overall we’ve had a pretty good experience at Vale Park but not away.

“For example, at Sheffield Wednesday over Christmas, we parked near the ground and were wearing our football colours. We walked away from the car and a load of Sheffield fans keyed the car. It was unnecessary and really difficult.

“In the ground, we haven’t really seen many problems but my 12-year-old daughter refuses to come to the football because of aggression she saw when Port Vale played Manchester City in 2020. The away supporters were so aggressive towards Vale fans – men literally foaming at the mouth, not even watching the match just turning around and shouting abuse and swearing.

“That type of experience can really put kids off a football match.

“There are some clubs with that particular reputation and you just think ‘I’m not going to take the kids to that’. We think carefully about which games we go to. I worry less inside the stadium; I worry much more outside.

“The other thing which is a new dimension is the online world – social media is fuelling an awful lot of aggression and violence pre-match between fans. You can see it flooded on to Twitter and other social media platforms.

“Planned meet-ups for violence happen, with loads of aggression towards fans and that is one of the thing fuelling the rise of aggression outside the grounds.

“It is a part of the game, it is a minority but the social media aspect is one that we can’t not talk about in the modern game.”

‘Atmosphere is more positive at home’


Sebastian, a Barnsley fan, attends matches with his father and younger brother and said he does feel “more safe” during home matches.

“You do notice the whole atmosphere being more positive at home – the environment is more family friendly,” he said.

“Away games are a bit more tense, a bit intimidating at times. You want to create an atmosphere but sometimes the line is overtaken.

“I do tend to wear my colours – but when it’s derby games or local rivals, I wear my shirt but then a jacket to maybe cover it, to avoid any altercations outside the ground.”

‘This is a society problem’


Faye, London: It’s 50-50 – some of the men are drunk and very aggressive and intimidating. Pushing and shoving, it’s an intense environment. We don’t go to away games, just home. Away games are quite intimidating, it’s a tight-knit group with people fighting.

Phil, Sheffield: Away fans are getting a really bad threat. I travel to 90% of Sheffield United away games and you see it all over the place. I was on a coach going to Port Vale that was getting bricked by Vale fans, so it does happen everywhere. This is a society problem. This is younger guys in society looking for more than what they’re getting from their football team.

Claire, Oxford: I’m fortunate that I haven’t witnessed anything particularly severe but I enjoy it – I love the chants, the banter and the atmosphere. I don’t condone the violence but I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter who goes as much as she can and loves it. Isn’t it part of going to a football match?

Devon, London: At an Under-16s Arsenal and Spurs match, the abuse was disgusting and no one was doing anything about it. It was very bad, the language. People are saying this is passion – it’s not, it is madness.

Terry, London: I’ve been going since 1979, home and away. I’ve come across a lot of nice away fans but also sit in the vicinity of some fans at away matches who I think ‘I’m glad I don’t sit next to them at home’. It’s like a battlefield at times. It’s not just about going to the match, it’s about getting home and getting away from the vicinity safely – it’s not nice. A lot of people are just goading each other and not watching the match.

Mark, Tottenham: At the Premier League it’s very sanitised. But I went to a Bristol Rovers game and there was a group of lads in their early 20s goading the away fans and I had to say something to them in the end. I think there’s an element of young people watching the old hooligan films like Green Street and The Firm, and it’s like they want it to be 1985 and running around with the casuals. Maybe they feel they’ve missed out on that and what they see on TV is a bit of a fantasy. But in general it’s a lot better than it was in the 1970s and 80s.

Football is a safe environment – fans’ group


Brunskill, from the FSA, acknowledged a small section of fan behaviour is unacceptable but was keen to ensure football fans are not put off by the actions of a minority of disruptive supporters.

“I wouldn’t want to portray football as a wild west that normal people can’t go to – it’s a safe environment, hundreds of thousands of people go every week and have a great time,” he said.

“Yes, there is the the odd problem but I think a lot of it is educating people, particularly the younger fans.

“For example pyrotechnic use seems to have been normalised – people use it at Glastonbury and it’s illegal there as well and shouldn’t be happening but it’s celebrated. But in a football context, it’s punished and people have gone to jail for it.

“Pitch invasions and pyrotechnics are illegal and we really need to discourage that behaviour – the consequences can be serious.

“It’s about passion without poison and certainly without violence, and that does happen at most games. We must educate about what is and isn’t allowed – not just portray the unpleasant incidents as the norm.”

Original article published 13.01.2023 on the BBC website.

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