Offside, 29 June

'What is the justification for extending the powers of the Football (Disorder) Act? That there has been no trouble whatsoever.'

Duleep Allirajah

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The UK government has announced that it intends to renew legislation restricting the movement of suspected football hooligans.

The powers of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 are due to expire five days before England meet Germany in a crucial World Cup qualifier on 1 September 2001. The provisions were time-limited as a concession to peers, who were concerned about the haste with which the government rushed the legislation through parliament. However, now the government wants to extend these powers indefinitely.

What is the justification for extending these measures? Is it because English fans have been rampaging through Europe this season? No – it’s because there has been no trouble whatsoever.

‘Since we introduced new legislation last summer there has been no significant disorder involving English fans abroad’, explained Home Office minister John Denham. ‘There is no room for complacency, however. We are determined to keep up the momentum and keep thuggery out of football.’ (1) According to the Home Office, the Act ‘appears to be having an important deterrent effect’.

The logic is impeccably circular. If there has been no violence it must be because the Act is working well. It’s a bit like hanging garlic outside your front door, and then claiming that the non-appearance of vampires was due to the garlic. If the absence of football violence continues for much longer I dread to think what new draconian measures will be introduced, in case we should become complacent.

Extending anti-hooligan measures on the basis of flimsy evidence is very much in keeping with the spirit of the legislation. The Football (Disorder) Act was rushed through parliament on the back of the hysterical media reaction to the violence at Euro 2000. TV footage of England fans throwing plastic chairs in the Belgian town of Charleroi was presented as evidence that the ‘English disease’ of hooliganism was back.

However, according to journalist Charlie Whelan, ‘The incident with the water cannon that the TV reported actually lasted no more than 10 minutes, while 15,000 England fans enjoying themselves with Germans in the hundreds of bars around the square received no coverage’ (2). Even Jacques van Gompel, the mayor of Charleroi, talked down the trouble, saying, ‘There was much enjoyment here. The five minutes during which chairs flew through the air changed nothing….There was no more trouble than at a hearty carnival’ (3).

As a Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) report on Euro 2000 put it, ‘The media now frequently refers to “the riots in Charleroi” – riots that, frankly, didn’t take place’ (4).

Thanks to the exaggerated response to a few drunken skirmishes at Euro 2000 we now have legislation that allows people who have never been convicted of any crime to have their passports confiscated. Isn’t it about time we stopped worrying about the inflated problem of football hooliganism, and started taking issue with the casual removal of our civil liberties?

(1) Home Office Press Release, 20 June 2001

(2) Guardian, 26 June 2000

(3) BBC News Online, 24 June, 2000

(4) ‘EURO 2000 – Policing, Arrests and Deportations’ The report can be downloaded from the publications section of the FSA website

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