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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
FSA's Steven Powell on football hooliganism
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The number of arrests made at football games last season has increased by 253 compared to the same time last year, a report has revealed.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service report also highlights the changing nature of the violence - with most of it now centred on train stations, pubs and even neighbouring towns.

The NCIS found that hooligans are better organised than they used to be - using mobile phones and the internet.

Can the battle aganist football hooliganism ever be won? Who is to blame - the game or society?

The Football Supporters' Assocation represents the interests of fans both nationally and locally.

Steven Powell is the development officer at the association, he joined us for a live forum and answered a selection of your questions.

Highlights of the interview:


Carl Peters in Aberdeen asks: Given that the majority of the violence takes places nowhere near football stadia and that the idiots who perpetrate it tend not to wear football colours, how appropriate is it to refer to the organised fighting that takes place between different regional areas as football hooliganism?

Steven Powell:

There is a great deal to that. A former chief executive of the Football Association once said once said to Margaret Thatcher in answer to her demand of what they were going to do about the hooligans, said: when are you going to get your hooligans out of my stadiums. There is a certain amount to that. We do have a problem in society. You can see the same sort of violence that has become associated with football, on a Friday or Saturday night in any town centre and it is something that we as a society have to deal with.

That said, we as football supporters, have prayed and begged the police and the football authorities to be involved in these debates and discussions about how to deal with the problem as it relates to football. We asked for a copy of the report and the reason that we still can't comment in detail is that they haven't given us the courtesy of sending us the report yet. We want to be involved, we want to be part of the solution - yes it is right to say that you are not going to cure completely football violence without curing violence in society.


Why does a sport like football attract more hooligans than a sport like, for example, rugby?

Steven Powell:

If you look at rugby league as an example, that attracts a working-class support and doesn't have those elements. The trouble with football is that it is the most popular and universal game, so it is going to attract the good and the bad in any society. There is a percentage of predominately young males between 17 and 26 who seem to be bent on violence in this country and we have got to address that problem and why we have that difficulty. Other societies have problems of violence but not at the level that we do.


Jim in England asks: Society is mainly to blame for this type of hooliganism. Being in Holland for Euro 2000 I noticed that most of the English there weren't going to any of the games. Major sporting events such as this are highlights in the hooligans' calendar.

Steven Powell:

I don't think football is to blame for the problem. I think there is an element that looks for something to attach themselves to - that is why I don't think drink is the problem as an example. Scottish fans drink a lot, Irish fans drink a lot, Danish fans drink a lot and they don't seem prone to violence - it is something in our society. But what is society in the end? Society is made up of people and we as people have got to decide that we don't want this sort of violence on our streets, whether it is outside a football ground or outside a bar or a nightclub on a Friday or Saturday night. We have got to get to the bottom of why it is that we have this problem with predominately young males who have a tendency to violence.


Jim mentions Euro 2000. Some of these big football championships are like major events in the hooligans' sporting calendar. There are a number of people who will plan it months in advance so they can go there simply to cause trouble.

Steven Powell:

That is true and correct steps have been taken to try to prevent that problem. Football supporters have no problem with anybody who has a record of violence being banned from attending football matches either in this country or overseas. But that prevents the symptoms - it doesn't deal with the real root cause. It is true to say that there are people who are intent on turning these big tournaments into problems. However, it is important to say that policing does play an important part. The policing in the Netherlands was completely different from the policing in Belgium and that made a difference to the outcome.


James Butler, London, UK asks: Why is it that a thug at a football game is a hooligan but at a G8 meeting they are an activist?

Steven Powell:

I don't think anybody would want to defend either the actions of some of the so-called activists in Genoa or the actions of the caribinieri in beating up defenceless people. I don't know the answer to that. I like all sports - I have been to rugby union internationals and rugby league internationals and I have seen conduct around Twickenham in the pubs which was described as exuberance but described as hooliganism outside a bar around Highbury. There is that class distinction it does have to be said. So he is right to say that you do have to be very careful who you label as a hooligan and who you label as somebody who has got problems in knowing how to behave in public.


Stephanie Mills in Birmingham asks: As a mother I am less worried about getting caught up in a fight and more concerned about the bad language and the antics of the supporters inside the stadia. It isn't the type of behaviour I want to expose my son to. What is being done to make it more family-friendly?

Steven Powell:

This is a difficult question. I was speaking to a director of Arsenal recently and he told me the biggest single number of complaints he gets is about bad language. It is a problem in our society - people are less inclined to know how to behave appropriately in different circumstances. Certainly the most shocking show of behaviour I have seen from parents with their children was in the so-called family enclosure at Wembley at an England v. Argentina international a few years ago. So I do think it is down to parents to control the way they react and for us all to be responsible. So there are certain circumstances when it is not appropriate to roar and shout and swear at people but it for us to decide not to do it.

The reason that the Scottish supporters have changed is that essentially they decided to do it themselves. It has got to come from within the supporters in this country. We have got to decide that we are not going to put up with it anymore and we have to stand up and say something when there is inappropriate behaviour. I certainly do it in games. I have had people expelled from Arsenal for throwing racist insults. I know it is difficult and I know sometimes you don't want to challenge it but if you don't feel like doing it yourself then do report it to the stewards or the police and if they don't want to do anything, complain to the club and let us know and we will do something about it. We don't want people to be surrounded by racist remarks and we also accept that kids shouldn't be exposed to the sort of level of language that perhaps adults are more used to.

There is a problem with inappropriate language. I think it is overstated at times. We all have different sensibilities. In the end it wouldn't be fair to expect the police or the stewards to be dealing with mass taunting. We have to decide in the end that it is unacceptable behaviour to us as football supporters. That is when it will change when we decide it has to change. We want the passion but the sort of behaviour that has been referred to there where it goes right over the top should be dealt with.


John Cooper in the UK asks: Has the sport's image in relation to soccer and hooliganism got better or worse in the last few years?

Steven Powell:

The image has got better. There is a suggestion now that hooliganism has come back - I don't think it ever really went away - I think there were always problems. It is just that the media decided that it was a problem that got solved for a while. The problems of violence in society haven't been solved and therefore these problems haven't been solved. So I think the media does have a part to play in being honest by not under-representing the problems but no over-representing them either.


Cathy Green, Dublin, Ireland asks: Why can't English football fans be more like the Irish fans? They go everywhere throughout the world and are welcomed. Rarely is there any trouble with Irish fans yet Ireland has the image of the drunken Irish - at least they know how to behave themselves drunk or not.

Steven Powell:

It is true - it is a cultural thing and I can't give you a simple reason why - lots of people put it down to a variety of causes. I am not certain but I believe that if we do invest enough time and effort and make it a priority, we will get to the bottom of why it is. She is right, the Irish fans are wonderful when they go overseas - so are the Dutch, despite the fact have severe problems with hooliganism in the Netherlands that doesn't seem to travel. Scotland are wonderful, Denmark are wonderful.

I am actually Welsh and not English so I follow the Welsh national side regularly and I am afraid that Wales has the same element that follows the English national side. Perhaps it doesn't get as much coverage because it is a smaller situation but there is a problem and I wish I knew what it was so we could solve the problem. But I don't know is the simple answer and if we did, we would apply the lesson straight away and we would solve the problem.


Matthew Hammond, London, UK asks: The new law which will enables the police to refuse fans to leave the country for matches will once again treat us as second-class citizens. We don't take away the passports of convicted minor criminals such as muggers, pickpockets and shoplifters, so why should we have to put up with this?

Steven Powell:

True there is a problem with this. One of the things that we are absolutely intent on is that anybody who is going to have their ability to leave the country removed in order to go to a football match, should be able to be confronted with the evidence against them. We are prepared to talk about the circumstances of that. We accept that there may be cases where the evidence is strong but wouldn't be strong enough for a criminal conviction. But the person should at least have the right to make representations on their behalf. We know of at least one case - and we have seen the evidence - where someone who was convicted of hooliganism in Belgium and was innocent. The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) has told us that privately - they believe the same thing. The problem is getting your hands on that evidence in order to make a successful appeal against the conviction.

People do have to have a right to be able to have their say. The courts have to say - you are going to be banned for this reason - now explain to us why you shouldn't be banned. It is right to say that plenty of people who are anti-social and visit their bad habits on people overseas are allowed out so why not football fans. So yes, football fans are treated as second-class citizens that is absolutely true and we do have to guard against an overreaction. We don't want people who are clearly guilty of violence related to football from travelling overseas either with club or national teams but neither do we want people who are entirely innocent stopped from following their team.

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