UK

Increase in young football hooligans, say police

  • 8 October 2010
  • From the section UK

Senior police are warning over the possible emergence of a new generation of football hooligans after incidents involving young people almost doubled.

Association of Chief Police Officers figures seen by BBC Radio 5 live show there were 221 incidents last season, up from 114 in 2007.

Overall levels of hooliganism remain low but the trend has sparked concern.

However, Jon Keen from the Football Supporters' Federation said hooliganism was no longer a major problem.

Fewer resources

Internal police figures seen by the BBC show there are now 290 teenagers across the UK banned from football grounds.

Police are worried about the possible emergence of a new generation of hooligans and they say trouble is more focused on the lower leagues where there are fewer resources to control matches.

While the violence is not at the levels of the 1970s and 1980s, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) says it is seeing disturbing evidence of younger fans becoming involved.

Figures show that almost half (47%) of incidents of disorder last season in England, Wales and Northern Ireland involved youths.

'Worrying trend'

Andy Holt, who speaks for Acpo on football policing, said: "If they're engaging in football-related disorder at an earlier age then we're going to be stuck with that sort of behaviour potentially for some while.

"So it is something that we are acutely aware of. People are coming through and engaging in football disorder who perhaps weren't around in the heyday of football violence 15-20 years ago.

"So it is a worrying trend that the younger element are starting to pick up on this sort of behaviour."

One of the key tools used to try to tackle the problem is football banning orders.

The orders allow the courts across the UK to impose severe restrictions on the movements of potential hooligans around matches.

They will be banned from all football grounds, and can also be stopped from using trains or entering city centres on match days.

Official statistics for the current football season will be published in the autumn but BBC Radio 5 Live has seen figures showing that in September there were 3,211 bans in place across the UK. Some 290 of them were for teenagers, and the youngest was aged just 13.

'Prepared to fight'

"Phil" and his brother "John" are both in their early 20s. John got his first football banning order when he was 17.

Despite being Coventry City fans, neither of them will be able to go to a football match until they are almost 30.

"Phil" has been banned for eight years and "John" for 10. They were both convicted of football-related violence after being involved in a fight involving up to 100 Coventry and Leicester fans in 2008.

Proud members of the club's hooligan "firm", the Coventry Legion, they got involved in football violence when they were 14.

Despite the damage they have done to the reputation of Coventry City they see themselves as the true fans of the club.

"Football hooligans may not be true fans to you, we're there every game. What are you doing? 'Oh lets sit at home on the chat boards slagging off how bad Coventry City are doing.' Come back when you know what you are talking about."

"We're prepared to fight whether it's windy, snowy, rainy, we're prepared to fight every weekend through the football season for Coventry City and for everything they represent."

"I definitely think we're treated worse than paedophiles. Okay, paedophiles have to sign a register for so long, but they don't have to go through what we have to go through.

"They don't have to go down the police station at eight o'clock at night after working a 12 hour shift to go sign their football banning card."

'Modern reality'

Officers say they have seen a shift in the way football violence takes place, with trouble more focused on the lower leagues where ticket prices are cheaper and there may be fewer resources to steward and police games.

On Saturday, trouble broke out after Southampton's League One match against Bournemouth. Six people were arrested after violent clashes between supporters outside the ground and in the city centre.

Match commander Supt Rick Burrows said of the trouble: "Southampton's a lovely town and the club's a great club, and the majority don't want to see that. It's the reality of modern day football.

"Football hooliganism doesn't go away. It morphs and it comes back in different forms and the police have to be switched on to that and respond accordingly."

The cost of policing games has become a point of tension between the football leagues and the police.

Acpo estimates it costs up them up to £25m to deal with football matches, but last season they only recovered £12-15m of that from the clubs.

The rest of the price is being borne by the police, and ultimately, taxpayers.

In response, the clubs say they are not legally liable for trouble happening away from their grounds and should not be expected to pay for it.

Mr Keen said: "It's very much on the fringes. Let's get the figures in perspective - typically over 39 million supporters attend football matches in any season. I actually feel a lot safer going to a football match than I do walking through a town centre on a Friday and Saturday night."

"It's significant that over 60% of these incidents are away from matches," he added.

The Football League says it is not complacent about the problem of hooliganism but the figures need to be seen in context.

A spokesman said that the number of incidents was quite small across a season that encompassed 2,000 football matches watched by more than 30 million people.

"There is a constant dialogue between the football authorities and the police service. If the police have some new issues of concern they should raise them at the appropriate forum," he said.

Additional reporting by Owen Phillips and Rachel Fursman, BBC Radio 5 Live.

Correction 15 October 2010: The figures in the second paragraph of this report have been amended to incorporate statistics that are higher than those originally quoted. Other parts of the report have been amended where appropriate.

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