Yesterday Lewisham Police put out a tweet explaining that they had arrested a fan for theft of the matchball at Millwall FC v Sheffield United FC after it had been kicked into the stands out of play. According to the Police this was because of a complaint by Millwall FC. While I don’t intend to comment in this case other than to say that it appears to be overkill, and sadly in its effort to justify the arrest Lewisham Police twitter feed ended up making some inappropriate comments including making fun of the fact a male had been arrested in front of his son with #Canwehaveourballback. And that the Club is trying to turn around its media image and therefore the arrest was justified.
It’s a shame that the Club is more concerned about turning around this, so called, media image only when it suits it. In February 2016 at the Millwall v Peterborough match there was some disorder, which the Club was quick to condone, and did not offer any support for those who were arrested. What the Club has failed to add to its media image is that fact that the whole incident of disorder occurred because a Club steward lied about being assaulted. Because of that lie, the police entered the stand, and the subsequent disorder occurred when the fans took exception to the police handling of the incident. While I believe the police handling of the incident was overkill, it doesn’t detract from the fact that the cause of the incident, and of fans subsequently being criminalised (and some facing a football banning order) was a Club representative, who has been quietly removed from stewarding duties. As to why the steward was initially involved in the incident? Sadly, despite requests, the Club would not provide details on why the steward was initially involved with harassing a fan, but there is an indication that it was due to the fact that the fan was blocking the view of some of the more corporate members of the Club.
This isn’t the only incident of the Club failing to back its fans. Last season, British Transport Police put out a very inappropriate tweet saying that any fans travelling to Coventry for Coventry City FC v Millwall FC and who did not have a ticket, would be dispersed from the City under police dispersal powers. It was after my intervention with British Transport Police that they backtracked on this, but the Club remained silent and did not support the fans.
Clearly the Club is not trying to improve its media image with the fans, but with those who, to put it bluntly, don’t matter. It’s the fans who matter and this lack of support, which is not just a Millwall FC problem shows that the fans are not being given the support they deserve. If a Club won’t support fans when they are facing court due solely to the wrong actions of a Club steward, so in effect due to the wrongful actions of the Club itself, when will a club support its fans?
I’m not a Millwall FC fan so I can make this complaint without fear of repercussions of the Club. I appreciate that genuine fans are placed in a very difficult position with football clubs these days, as the recent letters to Charlton FC fans have shown, complain about a club on social media and face your season ticket being removed. In other words..criticise the Club and you will be punished. Its a shame that Millwall FC didn’t see fit to make a complaint about their steward attempting to pervert the course of justice, making a false police complaint and wasting police time..but hey..that may have affected the Club media image, far better to blame the fans…
Picture this.. you are travelling to Euro 2016 with a couple of friends, you have paid in excess of £350 for your weekend trip, including flights and accommodation. At the airport you are stopped because your name is on a passenger manifest for a flight to France, and this passenger manifest has been provided to the UK Football Policing Unit in advance. Little do you know that a police officer in a ‘streamlined’ unit within the UKFPU has decided that you should be stopped from travelling to the Euros because you have a previous conviction for violence, which is not football related and was committed some years ago. You are told you can’t travel, your passport is taken and you are told to turn up at the magistrates court the next morning. The next morning you turn up at court, but you can’t have the court duty lawyer as the provision under which you have been stopped, and your passport taken, doesn’t fall within the duty lawyer scheme as its civil and not criminal.
You attend court, unrepresented, have not had advance sight of the papers that the CPS (acting as agents for the UKFPU) serve on the day. You can’t challenge those papers as you have no lawyer and have had no time to prepare or collate your own evidence that would disprove the UKFPU’s claims that you are a football hooligan. The court decides that the UKFPU wouldn’t have acted without good reason …right? And your passport is retained and you told that you can either accept the football banning order that day or wait at least 2 months for a court date to prove that you are not a football hooligan. You have the audacity to challenge the football banning order so the CPS ask for draconian bail conditions (as if taking away your passport and ruining your trip is not enough, the conditions include not to travel on the rail network when your team is playing football, and exclude you from your own town centre on match days).
Two months later, you attend court, the CPS and Police attend on behalf of the UK Football Policing Unit and put forward their ‘evidence’ to the court, which doesn’t stand up to cross examination – “So officer you are telling me that as my client has attended away football matches, stood in the away end with his friends and nothing happened, on more than one occasion, that this is evidence that this is evidence he is a risk of violence or disorder in the future?….hmmm”. Within 10 minutes of the Magistrates going out to make a decision on whether to impose a football banning order, they return and decline the application.
However by then your name has been published in the press as the police were more than happy to publish details of those stopped at the airport, your movements have been restricted for 2 months and you have been through the stress of the pending legal proceedings, and the fact that the Police have told you they will make an application for up to £5000 in costs unless you accept the football ban.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Football fans stopped at St Pancras, told they couldn’t travel, despite explaining that they did not have football related disorder convictions and were holding the Euros tickets for friends who were already in France, who were then told once the last train to Marseille had left London, that they could have their passport back as the UKFPU was no longer continuing with the application for a football banning order. Football fans stopped by police on the orders of the overzealous UKPFU to only find out later that the last names and dates of birth had been confused and that the fan could have travelled, but by then it was too late as they had missed their flight or train. Police, on the orders of the UKFPU turning up on the doorstep of fans who had no intention of traveling to France, and ordering the fans to surrender their passports and attend court within 24 hours. The list of examples is endless.
And all by the UK Football Policing Unit which has no power in legislation to apply for Football Banning Orders and so has ordered police to do so on its behalf, even in cases where the police do not want to apply for a football banning order. This Unit was staffed 24 hours a day during the Euros with 8 police officers, 4 Inspectors and 4 Crown Prosecutors, all of whom are public servants paid out of public funds and who could have been doing something much more useful during the Euros than making these applications. I question whether this was nothing more than empire building by the Director or Assistant Director of the UK Football Policing Unit.
Sadly I am too busy dealing with the mess left behind by this ‘streamlined’ (as the UKFPU called it) process to follow up on my suspected mismanagement of this UKFPU Euro’s campaign, but if anyone is interested in knowing more, my suggestion would be some freedom of information requests surrounding the number of people stopped, compared to the number actually taken to court, and the number of successful applications. Also the number of doorstep applications served (as they were clearly a means of the UKFPU boosting up its figures) and of those the number which were continued with at court, and the number where a football banning order was imposed. Of course the costs to the taxpayer of staffing this Unit during the Euros should also be questioned. I am certain there is an abuse of power argument here, but i’m just not in the position to devote the time to make it.