Documentary highlights football’s enduring problems
As a young female football fan, attending a big match is often an unforgettable experience.
You are surrounding by thousands of fellow fans, singing, chanting and urging their team on. The star-name players and the stadium itself exude an aura of elite sport glamour.
Your first match at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, the Etihad or Emirates will generate memories that will last a lifetime.
There is still, however, a darker side to match days that often threatens to turn what should be a great day out into a fearful, even dangerous experience.
This is particularly the case outside of grounds. Inside stadia, CCTV and well-organised stewarding have largely eradicated the kind of trouble that used to blight the beautiful game.
But beyond the confines of all-seater venues, large groups of rival fans can quickly be transformed into uncontrollable, battling mobs.
I have been to quite a few football matches and witnessed absolutely terrifying, chaotic scenes.
‘Hooliganism still lingers on the streets around football grounds, in pubs and bars, at rail stations and on trains’
Under the influence of alcohol, supporters confront each other, sometimes before but usually after a match. Beer bottles are smashed, punches thrown, abuse hurled.
I always close my jacket when leaving a stadium, covering my club jersey to avoid any interaction with drunken fans, unable to show support for my team in public.
On trains, I prefer to put my headphones on and make no eye contact, trying to ignore those supporters who seem to delight in behaving in an intimidating manner.
Even as a football fan, it can leave me terrified, so I can’t imagine how horrifying it must be for non-football fans who happen to be on the train as well.
A recent edition of the Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches highlighted the problem. It followed undercover police officers as they boarded trains with hidden cameras to catch fans misbehaving.
‘More police officers on trains would be a step forward to making it a safer journey for all passengers’
The programme showed supporters being racist and harassing young women and the elderly. Some were arrested and fined a few months later, admitting – when they saw the footage – they were extremely sorry and embarrassed about how they had acted.
Britain’s public transport network is always busy, often overcrowded, and no-one should feel unsafe and threatened by groups of hooligans. Sadly, there is no way that the police can patrol every train carrying football fans to and from matches and crack down on any anti-social behaviour.
The UK government urges clubs to take more responsibility for their fans’ actions, but they rightly argue there is nothing they can do once supporters leave the stadium.
More action needed
However, I believe clubs can do more in terms of setting the right tone for how fans should behave whilst watching their heroes in action.
Earlier this year, Manchester United took action to persuade their fans not to keep using a chant about striker Romelu Lukaku which had racist connotations.
United enlisted Lukaku himself to urge them to stop, but when some persisted they were caught on CCTV, identified and punished.
But while hooliganism has largely been removed from stadia these days, it still lingers on the streets around them, in pubs and bars, at rail stations and on trains.
On trains, more money needs to be found to increase patrols by British Transport Police and their regular force colleagues.
The stations themselves often have a significant police presence, but post-match journeys can often be fraught with worry and tension.
More officers on trains would be a step forward to making it a safer journey for all passengers.