Football on Trial: Spectator Violence and Development in the Football World
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Those are some of the long-term problems. Let me now deal briefly with the immediate problems we face. No one can doubt that soccer crowd violence is on the increase. The bad publicity that the sport gets is clearly affecting the gates and therefore the economic ability of the game to deal with its problems. It is a reinforcing cycle. The violence is partly a reflection of our increasingly violent society. Therefore, it is nonsense to single out football violence. I shall make some brief suggestions because I wish to give the Minister plenty of time to reply. As it is a short debate I shall make out a list and if the Minister cannot respond to them all when he replies, perhaps he will respond to me in the usual way, as he has done in the past.
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First, all football league matches should be played on Sunday mornings. That would undoubtedly upset some people, but it would do much to eliminate the problems of alcohol inside the grounds.
Football Spectator Violence
Secondly, ground, should be all seating, covered and divided into small secure sections with closed circuit television. I know that it is easy to say that, but such ground improvements and security measures would cost the game millions. If the Government are not prepared to provide the cash, they should make low or no-interest loans available to professional football clubs through a national funding agency. Thirdly, if, as I hope, we move towards the concept of football clubs organised as social clubs, admission by club membership card would be compulsory without any erosion of civil rights, which straightforward identification cards at present represent.
I read today in The Standard that the chairman of Luton football club is pushing such an idea. Fourthly, where clubs have singularly failed to minimise the dangers, they should be penalised in a much more draconian fashion. League points should be deducted. Clubs should face compulsory relegation or even expulsion from the league if they persistently fail to deal with problems when help is being offered to them to deal with such problems. Fifthly, I should like to see courts giving more custodial sentences and community work orders on match days for offenders.
The sort of thing that gets right up the nose of the average football supporter is having to weed someone's garden when an FA cup match is being played.
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Many people are not aware that in London clubs must pay the Metropolitan police for their presence inside the ground. That should not be the case.
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The charge should fall on the public purse. Clubs could encourage many more of their supporters to act as voluntary stewards as a form of self-policing. Seventhly, in London the Commissioner should set up on a trial basis football community policing teams. These would be specialised police teams which would travel regularly to away games to brief the local police force and attend the game with their supporters.
If the Commissioner ever gets the scheme off the ground, he may wish to enrol me as a special constable, it seems to be a good job. That would assist the police greatly in maintaining effective policing inside the grounds. Those police teams would soon get to know the regular fans and, therefore, could identify those who were attending only to cause trouble. In conclusion, if the Government genuinely wish to eliminate soccer violence and to help restore the image of this important international sport, they must show political will and financial commitment.
The Government take a lot of revenue from the game. Pools promoters, television, and Fleet street all make big money from football. As a football supporter, I believe that the clubs have a right to expect much more of the wealth that their sport creates to come back into the game for the benefit of the much-abused and vilified football supporter.
I am grateful for the constructive way in which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West Mr. Banks has approached this important subject. I am at one with him on many of the points that he raised. I only hope that, when Hansard is published, he will circularise his speech to as many of those who are responsible for running our great national games as possible.
His comments were extremely helpful in the overall context of this national problem. I confirm that I have read all the documents which the hon. Gentleman enumerated at the beginning of his speech.
However, I am oblivious of his report, which I shall certainly read if he would kindly send my office a copy. I shall sit down and study it. There is much to be read on this important topic. I can also confirm that since I started watching football in the early s—as an Essex dweller, I began at Leyton Orient—I have visited about four fifths of all first and second division football grounds at some stage or another during the past 30 years. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, disorder at football matches is by no means a new or recent phenomenon. The problem has been with us for many decades and it affects many countries.
It is interesting to note, for example, that Millwall's ground was first closed as a disciplinary measure in , and suffered the same fate in , and If he were here, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath Mr. Howell would acknowledge that the problem was prevalent during his two terms as Minister with responsibility for sport.
He will remember some of the more serious incidents that took place during that period. In , in Paris, when Leeds was playing Bayern, and in , when St. Etienne was playing Manchester United, thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused inside and outside the grounds, and many people required hospital treatment. All this, unhappily, is familiar reading for us.
In their book, "Hooligans Abroad", the Leicester university researchers gave some vivid examples of crowd disorders abroad not involving British fans in support of the argument that football hooliganism is not purely a British disease. In Lima, in , when, in a match between Peru and Argentina, the referee refused to allow a goal to the home side, a riot followed in which people were killed and more than were injured. In Turkey, in , fans of two club sides fought with pistols, knives and broken bottles for days after the end of a match between the two teams.
Before troops restored order, cars were burnt out, spectators were injured and 44 were killed. We have seen more recent examples in South America. In Argentina, the national association had to implement a nine-day ban on prfessional football. Of course, that the problem is not new does not mean that there is an excuse for inaction. It is worth highlighting what the Government have done so far.
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On law and order, we have strengthened the powers of magistrates through the Criminal Justice Act The courts can now require parents and guardians to pay fines, costs and compensation for offences committed by young persons and children. The Act has also given the courts greater flexibility in the sentencing of young offenders, providing a new sentence of youth custody and doing away with the limitations on custodial sentences on young offenders.
The power to impose community service orders was amended to bring offenders aged 16 or over within the scope of the scheme. We have introduced new custodial measures to deal with young offenders convicted of violent crimes, and doubled the maximum fines available to magistrates. We have also considerably increased the number of attendance centres. I established a liaison group involving all the concerned agencies and authorities, and four Government Departments, to prepare for the three home countries' participation in the World Cup finals in Spain in A s we were successful in eliminating incidents of hooliganism through close co-operation in all the regions of Spain, I extended the remit of the liaison group, led by the Football Association chairman, to co-ordinate policy and precautions for domestic and international matches.
Officials from my Department serve on that liaison group, as do officials from the Home Office, the Department of Transport and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have ensured that embassies and consulates support the Football Association and clubs in planning matches abroad. Consular staff attend meetings with the Football Association's liaison officer, together with stadium authorities, clubs' staff and the local authorities to ensure, so far as possible, that the necessary security precautions are taken.
We have, through the Football League, focused league clubs' attention on the need to take precautions, highlighting the segregation of opposing supporters and the importance of pre-match planning, especially if the clubs are known to have problems. We have agreed with the liaison group a "blueprint" listing the precautions which should be taken for domestic matches. This was circulated to league clubs last August in time for the new season. It revised existing recommendations, and for the first time ensured that recommendations on segregation and the movement of crowds became mandatory under the Football Association's guidelines.
Following serious incidents of violence towards the end of the —84 season, the Government established a working group of officials from the Departments concerned to review what further options were available to tackle the problem. The group's report was published last August as a consultation document. With ministerial colleagues and the Football Association I have since met 17 representative organisations to discuss the report and its recommendations. The organisations, together with many other bodies and individuals, have also submitted a mass of written evidence for our consideration.
The report and the consultation on it formed the basis for our most recent considerations following the serious violence at Luton and Chelsea. Although the recent violence has focused our attention on the domestic scene, the aspect of the problem which has perhaps troubled me most since my appointment in is the effect that violence by English supporters abroad has on the good name of this country.
Clearly there is more than just national pride at stake. The hon. Gentleman touched upon this. There are more tangible economic casualties both in loss of exports and contracts for British companies to carry out work abroad, and particularly if any club is banned or invited to play behind closed doors by the governing body of European football, in which case there could be serious economic loss to the club. To help tackle this problem, the Government, through the Council of Europe, promoted the recommendation on the' reduction of football violence.
In my visits to many European footballing capitals and my discussions with Ministers over the past two years I have found that all accept that this is not purely an English problem. The recommendation calls for joint action among European countries and sets out the precautions, based on the European Football Association's ground rules, to be taken by the clubs and the authorities. I first called for the recommendation at the informal working party of sports Ministers in Paris in January , following which a working group chaired by one of my officials was set up to draft these recommendations.
I also attended the informal working party of sports Ministers meeting in Rotterdam later in at which the recommendation was discussed fully and agreed. The recommendation was adopted formally by the Committee of Foreign Ministers in March The Government have since taken the lead in the implementation of the agreement.