Know Your Rights
While most Villa supporters haven’t been arrested by the police or had any friction with stewards, you don’t have to be guilty of anything for mistakes to happen, or to end up a victim of injustice. Below Amanda Jacks, Case Worker for the Football Supporters’ Federation’s (FSF) provides a guide of what to do if you do find yourself having ‘conversations’ with the police or stewards, and if you ever get arrested or even banned.
Knowledge is power – so worth a read.
Over the years, football clubs and the police learnt very slowly that there was truth to the proverbial saying: ‘If you treat people like animals, they’ll behave like them’. Yet, watching football now in a more regulated and controlled environment still brings its own potential pitfalls.
For example, in the 1970’s, a streaker on the pitch was considered a bit of fun, normally ending with a policeman escorting the intruder off the field, while using his helmet to help cover up the main offense. Nowadays, any naked intruder on the pitch who’s convicted, ends up on the sex offenders list, ala the guy who was goaded on by his mates to entertain the Villa faithful in the dire game at Villa Park against Manchester City last season.
Still, there’s a lot less arrests then there used to be. In the 2010/2011 season (the last available police records), police arrested 103 Aston Villa fans (with 23 Villa fans received banning orders), which placed Villa fans 6th overall for arrests in the Premiership (which is roughly in sync with the club’s comparative attendances to be fair). In comparison, back in the 1980’s, a single Villa vs Blues game would see at least 50 arrests alone.
The West Midlands Police for the past year have started to practise a ‘community policing’ approach to football matches and recently announced that this method of a less noticeable police presence on match days is paying dividends with a lesser number of arrests.
Of course, the lack of Villa vs Blues derby always helps the statistics. The Brum derby, still, to quote the words of Alex McLeish, does bring “back to the dark ages”. The last meeting in the League Cup quarter-final in December 2010 was described as a ‘war zone’; with aggro before the game and a post-match Mexican stand-off on the pitch, with the odd flare and flying seat thrown in (and still the Villa board thought it was a good idea to appoint McLeish as manager, a few months later!). Although, back in the day, this would have been classed as just a bit of banter between both sets of fans, rather than a proper ‘row’.
Still, with the recent kerfuffle over banners for example, both the ‘McLeish Out’ ones of last season and the ‘One Stan Petrov’ one of this season, it’s worth knowing where you stand with the police and stewards, so please read the below information. In the end, it’ll help build better relationships across the board.
Firstly, it is important to stress that the vast majority of supporters attend football matches and go home having neither been arrested nor having had any real contact with the police (or stewards) so hopefully you’ll never need the advice in this article but nonetheless it is important that supporters are aware of their rights on arrest and know what to do in the event they wish to make complaint about how they’ve been treated.
1. I’ve been arrested, help!
The more you co-operate with the police the easier you’ll find the experience. The police don’t like smart arses and remember, they’ve got the keys to your cell so if you want to get out faster, don’t mess them around, be polite and don’t swear at them. The absolute Golden Rule however is to say yes to the offer of legal representation and never, ever admit to an offence you’re not guilty of to ‘get it over with’ or ‘so you can get home’. You are entitled to free legal advice at the police station by a lawyer completely independent of the police. Even if you have to wait for this, wait. You may think you’ve been wrongfully arrested and therefore don’t need a solicitor. Wrong. You definitely do. Do NOT accept a caution in the absence of legal advice. A caution isn’t a “slap on the wrists” it is an admission of guilt and will stay on your record. If you’ve been given a Fixed Penalty notice, do not pay it before speaking to us.
2. I’ve been charged or bailed pending further enquiries, help!
Phone us immediately. We refer all supporters to an excellent solicitor who has dealt with many, many fans for us with an overwhelming success rate. Her initial advice will be free of charge and if she does represent you, charges will be kept as low as possible; it will be money well spent, trust me. Do not let fear of high legal costs put you off contacting us. If you’re entitled to legal aid, you’ll get it. Your mates may well offer well meaning advice but it is better that that advice comes from a solicitor experienced in football related matters.
3. I’ve been served with a banning order application, help!
Fans tell us that when the police serve them with papers they’ll say that there is no point in contesting it, it will be too expensive and that the banning order will be made longer if they do.
Ignore this “advice” do not sign on the dotted line and ring us. We offer preliminary advice as to the merit of contesting the application free of charge. Sometimes we do have to say there is little point in fighting it but other times we’ll say the opposite and we’ve been successful in contesting civil banning order applications on several occasions. We will also advise on cost implications.
4. Can I take photographs or film the police and can they film us?
The answer to both those question is yes. Do not be intimidated if the police tell you it is “illegal” for you to take their pictures. It isn’t. Nor do they (or stewards) have the power to make you delete any images. If you’re filmed to, from or at a game by police or stewards, please let us know. We can offer advice if you feel uncomfortable about what may happen to any images taken.
5. Can the police make me join an escort or hold me in a pub before or after a game?
There isn’t a straightforward answer to that question as every instance will be different and there will be occasions when it is perfectly lawful for the police to dictate your movements. If you want to challenge their actions, ask to speak to a senior officer and make your case (politely!) to be allowed to move of your own free will. If they say no, ask them what powers they’re acting under and keep a note of their shoulder number as it may be possible to challenge their decision afterwards.
6. I’m not happy with the policing and/or stewarding today, what can I do next?
Get in touch with us and we can advise and support you through the complaints procedure and if appropriate we will take the complaint up ourselves or refer you to legal advisers who can advise on the merit of legal action if this is appropriate. Don’t ignore how you’ve been treated it or shrug it off as being part and parcel of being a fan. Sometimes, I feel that supporters are their own worst enemies in that we have an “expect and accept” mentality. In turn, I accept that the complaints process isn’t always an easy one, you can’t guarantee the outcome and it is time-consuming. But this is what we’re here for and if you don’t tell us what is going on then we won’t be able to do anything about it. We’re only as good as the information we receive. You’re a football supporter who invests a lot of emotional energy – not to say money – in supporting your team. You do have rights and you have every reasonable expectation of being treated as a law-abiding citizen. Sadly this isn’t always the case but never forget, watching football is not a crime.
Amanda Jacks, Case Worker for the Football Supporters’ Federation
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