A football banning order affects much more than just watching Premier or League football on a Saturday afternoon
With the new football season in full swing, fans who are banned from attending home and away games of their team are asking exactly how far their ban extends.
Most fans who are under a football banning order are aware that they can’t go to watch their own League team or England, either home or away, and that they need to hand in their passport to the police whenever England are travelling overseas. Some fans are also subject to handing in their passport when a Champions League match is being played overseas. But many Banned fans ask me whether they can attend any football matches? In general, my answer is that if it is anything more than watching their local pub team play on a Sunday morning, or their son’s school team, then probably, No, they cannot!
The law in this area is very unclear, and is open to a mix of interpretations. A Football Banning Order prohibits a fan from attending a ‘Regulated Football Match’, and the definition of ‘Regulated Football Match’ is an Association match in which one or both teams represent a club which is a member of the Football League, the FA Premier League, the Football Conference League, the League of Wales, or represents a country or territory.
The Under 21s Development League (or Premier League as it seems to have been renamed to suit those making money out of the League) is becoming increasingly popular with fans, especially as for many it has identity with their own Club, is played in the same stadium and is a Cup competition. Unfortunately, the games, including the Cup qualifiers may be classed as Regulated Football Matches and fall under the ban. For the very reasons that many fans are taking an interest in the League, the bans will probably apply – the purpose of the ban is to prevent a fan from attending football stadiums and mixing with other home and away fans.
There is an argument that the ban not apply to teams which are not part of the Leagues mentioned above, and that if the Government intended to include all matches played, it would have said so in the legislation. Add to this the fact that previously the restrictions included all matches played at the home ground of a Club which is a member of one of these football leagues, but this was changed in 2004 to the above definition. In my view it could be argued that this change in definition means that the Government no longer intended for all games played in these grounds to be included. However, the problem faced by fans is that this will possibly be a legal argument that will not be accepted by a local magistrates court, and it is the local magistrates who will determine whether a Banned fan has breached their Football Banning Order. Clearly the other side of the argument which will be put forward by the State is that the Under 21 team has the same name as the Club and so ‘represents the Club’. It seems that the UK Football Policing Unit do not have the answer either, and football intelligence officers I have spoken to are also unclear as to whether these Under 21 games fall within the ambit of a football banning order.
Hence there is no easy answer to this question. A fan who wants to take the risk may end up trying to persuade a magistrates court of a legal argument, and will probably end up having to appeal to the High Court for the legal definition to be determined. Such appeals are lengthy and expensive and (with the proposed reduction in legal aid) legal costs are unlikely to be covered by legal aid. On the flip side, fans should not be prevented from attending these Under 21 games on the basis that they fear they may be prosecuted as the law is unclear.
And as for Women’s football, since the Olympics the Women are receiving attention like never before, and from my own personal opinion this is long overdue..but many of the women’s games (and definitely the women’s FA Cup) may also fall within the term ‘Regulated Football Match’ in a football banning order and so I’m afraid attendance to watch the women will have to wait until the end of a ban, unless the fan wants to run the risk of prosecution for breaching the ban.
So how can a Banned fan watch football? This depends on the wording of the individual banning order. All banning orders prevent attendance at ‘Regulated Football Matches’, but some go further and prevent attendance at pubs and bars when the Banned fan’s team is playing either home or away, and some bans go so far as to restrict a fan’s liberty so that they cannot even go into their town when their team is playing either home or away.
It sounds like common sense, but a Banned fan should read the wording of their banning order very carefully to see what exactly they are prevented from doing. The Courts do not accept ‘I did not know that my ban prevented me from doing that’ as a reason for breaching a ban, and it is possible that a fan breaching their ban to end up with a prison sentence.
A Banned fan can apply to have their ban lifted after they have served two thirds of the ban. This means going back to court to argue that the fan is no longer at risk of causing future disorder. If the Banned fan has not breached their ban and has not been involved in non-football related disorder, it is often worth asking the court to remove the ban. But sadly, in the meantime, a banned fan may have to become an armchair fan!