Opinion: Why should all football fans be treated as potential hooligans?
Grimsby Telegraph business editor and former sports columnist David Laister, on the Hull City fans debacle that made it to Westminster today.
There’s a row brewing on yonder north bank.
West Yorkshire Police are trying to enforce rules that will only allow Hull City fans to travel by coach to a match, just a tootle along the M62, in Huddersfield.
No, it is not a revolution in Saturday afternoon carbon footprint reduction, but a one word fits all hooliganism tag attached to every ‘Taarger’ fan. And while local rivalry may dictate that I want them to get a thumping, I want it on the pitch, and with as many of their fans watching as possible.
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You’d think, given the events of the past 12 months, those controlling the force would have looked at what has happened to their colleagues in South Yorkshire, before tarring those from East Yorkshire before the presumed hostilities begin. These announcements were made well before the fixture had even been given any real thought by fans wrapped up in the last and next game. There’s yet to be a lewd song sung, or handcuff snapped closed to warrant such action.
But no, they have agitated a vociferous bunch and in doing so made a rod for their own back.
Such is the angst, it has even been brought up in the Commons this week, and drawing up some ‘sensible guidelines’ for future referral was the order of the day from the Leader of the House.
I grew up through Hillsborough. I remember looking up from the lower Findus to the scoreboard at Blundell Park and seeing the announcements that the FA Cup semi-final had been delayed, then postponed, and seeing the horrors unfold on the news. I remember the subsequent headlines and the appalling lies we now know, that I took as being gospel. I believed in the institution, I thought cover-ups were conspiracy theories, I probably even defended it. I was wrong and it sickens me now.
I’ve also been a ‘victim’ of this hooligan tar brush myself. Lincolnshire Police, a force not bathed in its own glory this past week, decided to kettle and march Grimsby Town fans away from Sincil Bank to the train station last time I visited, when we were both in League Two.
This meant a long and unpleasant walk, unnecessary delay, with blood pumping and aggression mounting, in the exact opposite direction to where we wanted to be.
The irony? The group I was in was supposed to meeting up with Imps friends after for a pint – one of whom was a retired senior ranking officer. Even showing my Press ID to an officious officer didn’t get me out of the human holding pen. My crime? Simply buying a ticket alongside some of the more vociferous Mariners. Not one caused any bother, and I imagine, at the debriefing somewhere at police HQ, pats on the back were handed out. During my previous visit I’d been on the pitch – not invading, but helping to organise a charity event involving the two clubs. The two scenarios couldn’t have been more isolated. But at least I eventually got back to my car, even if we had missed the opportunity of a pint, and let’s be honest, the enjoyment of that can usually be guaranteed whereas the football is something of a lottery.
If West Yorkshire get their way, which I very much hope they don’t, there are some pretty large assumptions being made. Given that East Riding and West Yorkshire border, it is safe to say many Hull fans wanting to take in the Huddersfield game will have to cover far more miles to get to a coach pick-up, than head direct. What of those who want to meet friends, ‘make a day of it’ as we so often did? What if their wives want a day out shopping in Leeds or one of the outlets off said M62?
One of the attractions of new stadia and higher echelons of football are the tourist economy it brings. If local council are to be persuaded to invest and help provide such facilities, they need a ‘greater good’ pay back. Ensuring people go there, only there, and straight out again, will never achieve that.
I also fear that a presumption of trouble will bring trouble. People will already be wound up, without any of the normal triggers – bad referee decision, poor performance, on-pitch stupidity, general lack of IQ.
For a long time at Blundell Park, during my most ardent of years, Alan Rutter controlled match policing. Before he ever wore a uniform he was a genuine football supporter, and as a Leeds United fan, he knew the best and the worst. He knew that supporters were all individuals, and he treated them with individual respect.
Maybe he could offer his services as a consultant to West Yorkshire.