Off the ball

Ordinary football fans are often the victims of the sort of policing that hit the headlines in the G20 protests. Steve Powell from the Football Supporters' Federation calls foul on the abuse of police powers

June 12, 2009
4 min read

Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 is a relatively new law. It gives powers to a police officer of any rank to require any person that they believe is or is likely to participate in the proximate future in alcohol-related disorder, to leave a locality by a route that the officer can specify for a period not exceeding 48 hours. I’m sure you’ll agree that we have a problem as a society with disorder, alcohol-related crime and violence, so it would appear that Section 27 is a useful implement in the toolbox of modern policing. If only that were the case.

On the 15 November last year, 80 supporters of Stoke City were peaceably gathered in a pub in Earlham prior to their club’s game against Manchester United. If you know your football, you’ll know that this was the first time in 30 years that Stoke had played at Old Trafford against Manchester United and hence a very special day for those supporters. The day turned out, unfortunately, to be special for all the wrong reasons.

For reasons still unclear, the police surrounded the pub and refused to allow any of the Stoke supporters to leave. All of them were issued with notices under Section 27. One supporter refused to sign a copy of the notice because he believed that the statements being made about him being involved in disorder were factually incorrect. He was told that if he refused to sign he would be arrested.

The police organised buses outside the pub and eventually all 80 fans were processed on to the buses. Because the fans had been in the pub, some of them needed to use the toilet. The police refused to allow those fans who had already been put onto the buses to go back into the pub to use the toilet; they were told to urinate in empty containers. A written statement from the publican records that all the fans were peaceable and none of them were drunk or even singing. In the end, 80 fans didn’t get to see the match, tickets costing over £30 were wasted and a large number of supporters felt aggrieved and badly treated.

Tens of thousands of football fans travel across the country to watch their teams play every weekend. But in December 2008, nine Plymouth Argyle fans arrived in Doncaster to watch their team tackle Doncaster Rovers and headed for a pub to look for some lunch. When they realised that the pub didn’t serve food, they attempted to leave, as they were hungry – and this is where it all went wrong. The pub had been surrounded by police officers and the Plymouth fans were refused permission to go elsewhere. One of them, when he pointed out to a police officer that they wanted to go and get something to eat, was told: ‘You’re not leaving the pub – go back inside and have a drink.’ Let’s remind ourselves here that Section 27 is specifically designed to deal with alcohol-related disorder.

Then it gets more serious. The nine football fans, including an eleven-year-old boy, were marched back to their minivan and taken down the motorway surrounded by police cars, with a helicopter above them. At the Derbyshire border they were met by officers of the Derbyshire constabulary. When some of them needed to relieve themselves, officers initially refused permission, before reluctantly agreeing to take each of them to use service station facilities – under escort, with baying police dogs, which were terrifying both the occupants of the van and the bystanders. Was that a proportional and sensible use of police powers? Couldn’t those officers in those cars and that helicopter have been better employed?

Of course, the single biggest group that is affected by football-related disorder and violence is football supporters themselves: we’ve got no interest in promoting violence. In these and other cases, the police have massively overstepped the mark.

Simon Bolivar, in his famous letter from Jamaica in 1815, said: ‘A state too extensive in itself … is transformed into a tyranny; it disregards the principles which it should preserve, and finally degenerates into despotism.’ Bolivar’s lesson is one that sometimes appears to have been forgotten in the cradle of democracy.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History