FOOTBALL FANS ON A FOOTBALL BANNING ORDER MAY HAVE BEEN UNLAWFULLY PREVENTED FROM TRAVELLING DURING THE NATIONS LEAGUE IN JUNE 2019
Lawyers have identified that the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit may have required football fans on a football banning order to surrender their passports prior to the 2019 Nations League tournament in Portugal, without a law being in place to require them to do so. If this is the case, the travel restriction on banned football fans is likely to have been unlawful, and the fans may be entitled to compensation.
If the United Kingdom Football Unit did not have the power to issue the travel restriction, it is questionable how the police had the authority to seize and retain passports. Any action by the police at a port or airport, stopping football fans and preventing them from travelling is also likely to have been unlawful.
Quite simply, the law requires the Secretary of State to stipulate the Control Period during which the football fans have to surrender their passport. The United Kingdom Football Policing Unit required fans to surrender their passport to the police between 29thMay 2019 and 1stJune 2019. It appears that no control period was put in place by the Secretary of State for the Nations League tournament. If the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit did act unlawfully, then at best those who surrendered their passport on 1stJune 2019 had their human rights interfered with for 9 days, those who surrender their passport on 29thMay 2019 had their rights interfered with for nearly 2 weeks.
If it is correct that there was no authority in place to restrict banned football fans’ movements, this could affect nearly two thousand football fans!
The claim against the United Kingdom Football Unit, which is part of the Home Office, is being brought on behalf of some football fans by Sarah Magson of Watson Woodhouse. Anyone who wishes to find out more about the claim, or thinks they too may have been affected can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Magson at email@example.com 01642 266 559
Despite the fact there are very few British fans involved in trouble at overseas football matches, Sections 21A,B & C of the Football Supporters Act 1989 are very draconian and may permit a police officer to detain an innocent fan and hold them until after their flight has departed. In other words, stopping an innocent fan from attending overseas matches, despite the fact they have paid for the plane ticket, accommodation, and tickets to the matches.
So what does the law really say on this?
A police officer in uniform, not in civvies, may detain a British football fan for 4 hours ( or 6 with the approval of an Inspector or above) at an airport or port, but at the time of the detention they must have reasonable grounds to suspect the fan has caused or contributed to violence or disorder previously. This means the Police officer cannot just detain a fan they don’t like the look of.
Any detention without this reasonable suspicion will be unlawful detention. The ‘gut feeling’ of the officer that the fan may commit disorder in the future is not enough there has to be something indicating the fan has been involved in disorder in the past.
If there is something in the past, the officer must also have a reasonable suspicion that the fan is likely to be involved in disorder at a football match in the future. If the officer holds both of these suspicions he can issue a notice requiring the fan to attend the Magistrates Court within 24 hours, they can also take away the fans passport until they get to court.
If the officer believes that the fan will not turn up at court, for example by saying “well I am going to get on the flight anyway”, they can arrest the fan and detain them for up to 24 hours until they are taken to court.
These measures don’t require a lot of police information or intelligence to justify a ‘reasonable suspicion’. A football intelligence officer can pretty much sit in Starbucks at the airport sipping their hot chocolate and watching social media on their iPhone. Tweets such as “England fans ready to cause havoc” alongside a group of fans in the airport holding up their pint glasses, with a pin showing their location is probably all a keen football intelligence officer will need for that ‘reasonable suspicion’.
It shouldn’t be the case that fans face such gross restrictions of their freedom of movement and expression, but sadly successive Governments seem to think that football fans don’t have the same rights as the rest of society, and until the fans start to campaign against these harsh measures they won’t change. In the meantime, if you are travelling to the International Friendlies, be careful with your social media use.
I prepared a leaflet for the World Cup, but the same applies to all International matches. Print off my guide to your rights, to fold and keep in your passport.
Football Supporters come from all walks of life from students to managing directors, paramedics to builders, train drivers to architects, children to pensioners. There is often nothing to link a group of football supporters other than their love of the game. Many supporters will attend home and away games, week after week, paying a not inconsiderable amount of money for their ticket and travel on top. Yet despite this, football supporters are increasingly being treated badly by their clubs.
A lot of the complaints I receive from fans amount to a social cleansing of the game. Supporters having their season tickets cancelled for no real reason, clubs banning fans for life for one minor indiscretion, clubs canceling a supporter’s membership due to the behaviour of another member of their family at a football match. Many supporters are reporting to me that they are receiving threatening letters from the Club’s lawyers, in effect telling them that legal action will be brought against them for their behaviour of using social network to make complaints about the Club management, unless they agree in writing not to write anything else on social network or fanzines about the Club.
My social cleansing theory on this is that the game of football was always a working person’s game. Supporting a particular team has been passed down through generations in many families, and it is a game that families attend together. However, in the current scheme of marketing, TV viewing rights, and financial promotion of many teams, the costs of a season ticket for a father and son or daughter pales into insignificance when compared with the corporate costs charged for a box, or particular seats in the Stadium. A box which can seat around 8 fans, and costing between £30000 and £40000 for a season has to be a better option for a club than 8 season tickets which may bring in less than £4000. Add to this that the beer in the box area flows at around £5 a pint, and the catering for a few sausage rolls and a slice of lasagna can run to more than £10 per head, and it is easy to see why the usual season ticket holders or occasional ticket purchasers are no longer favoured by the clubs.
So how does this link in with the fans being hassled by the clubs? Firstly, if fans who are openly criticising their club manage to get a following on social media or fanzines then this can create a movement that the Club can’t control. Clubs are trying to nip this in the bud. Secondly, banners at the ground do not look good for a club when the footage is screened around the World. Clubs are trying to promote this World image that does not accord with fans who are complaining about ticket prices, safe standing, and clubs that are happy to play overseas despite knowing that their players will be subjected to racial abuse or worse.
I have been advising fans on their options on having their membership or season ticket cancelled by a club. I always comment on the fact that supporters will put up with their club treating them badly, and will still go along to the match week after week, but once a season ticket or membership is taken away, that is when a football fan decides to fight. The main reason for this is that while a supporter has a season ticket, the Club has a stick to wield as it can threaten to cancel the season ticket or membership if the supporter continues with their complaint. But until fans start to challenge this overbearing behaviour by the clubs, it will continue and the fans will be the ones to suffer.
Alison Gurden advises and represents on all these issues and all other areas of Football Supporter Law.