Abuse in football: How Brighton are tackling fan behaviour

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The banana skin was thrown on to the pitch after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the opening goal in December's north London derby
  • Manchester City's Raheem Sterling is allegedly racially abused by Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge - December 2018
  • A banana skin is thrown on to the pitch by a Tottenham supporter after Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores at Emirates Stadium - December 2018
  • A coin is allegedly thrown at Jesse Lingard during Manchester United's FA Cup win at Arsenal - January 2019
  • Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has abuse shouted at him, including about his Muslim religion, by a West Ham fan at London Stadium - February 2019
  • Burnley fan charged with alleged racial abuse of Brighton's Gaetan Bong - February 2019
  • Bottles are thrown towards Paris St-Germain's former Manchester United winger Angel di Maria during the Champions League tie at Old Trafford - February 2019

"There are people in this country who are quite angry about what has been going on. For some reason, whether that is verbal abuse, violence and all kinds of other extreme anti-social behaviour, it seems football is the magnet for it" - Paul Barber, Brighton's deputy chairman.


This list is just some of the more high-profile incidents in the past three months that have shamed top level football this season.

After Brighton's FA Cup tie with West Brom at the Amex Stadium last month, three home fans were banned for life for separate incidents - assaulting a female crowd doctor, threatening to stab a club steward and assaulting a Baggies fan.

"It's not a crusade," Brighton's Barber tells BBC Sport. "It is more about taking our share of responsibility.

"We won't hide this behaviour. We are not going to bury these incidents for the sake of the reputation of our club.

"It is totally and utterly unacceptable."

'A problem for society' - why Brighton are taking a zero tolerance approach

The city of Brighton has one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in Britain - but for years their fans have had to put up with homophobic taunts by opposition supporters.

Brighton's unease at the situation is one of the reasons why they have adopted such a tough stance with any anti-social behaviour from their own fans.

In another example of policing their own, a Brighton fan who posted offensive comments online about West Brom legend Cyrille Regis was banned for five matches.

"One of the worrying things is that I don't believe this is just a football problem," says Barber. "It is a problem for society. We, at Brighton, don't want to be a magnet for it - so we will do our small part to keep it away.

"The education was done a long time ago. If it wasn't received by some of the people causing trouble now, it was received by their parents. We feel the best way to set a marker is to make sure these people don't come into the stadium so they can influence anyone else."

Barber says the feedback they have received has been overwhelmingly positive - from their own fans and supporters of other clubs too.

More clubs are becoming outspoken, which Barber welcomes. A Burnley fan arrested for alleged racial abuse was reported by those around him in the away end.

"We employ nearly 900 people on a matchday. Many of those people are part-time, for many it is their second job. For most of them their primary motive is to keep everyone in the stadium as safe as possible.

"In that context, for someone to turn on one of them and threaten to stab them is more than outrageous. It is absolutely disgraceful. This is the kind of behaviour that warrants a life ban."

Trouble 'lurking on the edges of football again'

"Coming back to Brighton was an interesting experience because it is a very diverse city. It is a welcoming city. It is totally inclusive. People accept people for who they are, what they are, however they want to be."

Barber grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when football violence was rife and his dad would sometimes refuse to take him to games.

A former Football Association executive, Barber has also worked in North America, where he says people went to live sport just to "enjoy the spectacle and have fun and mix with people".

He praises the work done by the Premier League and other football authorities with better security, education and punishments to fill stadiums with a "completely different crowd" and bring "women and children and families back to the game".

"Some of the stuff that went on in those days was horrible to see and frightening to be around," he said.

"Over the past 12 to 18 months, I have seen some of the things I witnessed growing up creeping back. Some of the characters who created the trouble are beginning to lurk on the edges of football again and one or two young people are being influenced.

"There will be some who criticise us for being too harsh, or for raising our heads above the parapet and putting the club into a position it doesn't need to be in. But someone has to do it.

"It has to start somewhere. I would prefer it if all clubs did it. Some are. But football shouldn't have to deal with this on its own.

"Is it behaviour we are seeing on weekends in city centres? Quite possibly. That is sad. All we can do is police our stadium. It is for the authorities to eradicate it."

Premier League clubs discussed improving the range of programmes they run to promote inclusion and diversity across football at their shareholders meeting on 7 February.

"All clubs agreed that while good work has been undertaken, more needs to be done to ensure BAME (Black Asian & minority ethnic) fans and players are supported, and that pathways are improved to encourage more people from different backgrounds to take up coaching, refereeing and administrative roles in the sport," the Premier League said in a statement.

"The league will now consult with external stakeholders, including other football bodies, government, equality and inclusion groups, and current and former players and managers on the detail of new work we develop in this area."

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