However despite all the arguments, on Sunday life and suspension of basic rights will continue unabated for a significant number of people, a situation which I suspect will pass without much comment or complaint. As regular readers know The Boiling Frog is a supporter of a particular football team and on Sunday we face our bitter local rivals - Oxford United whom we haven't played for 10 years. Though, as a derby game, it's not on the same scale in terms of numbers as a Celtic vs Rangers or Millwall vs West Ham match the passion is just as intense and the potential for disorder is similar. As a result it has been issued with a category 'C plus' rating- the highest category awarded to a football match for anticipated violence. What this C+ category actually means in practice is that there will be two sets of thugs on the streets.
Because of the nature and profile of the game one set of thugs will consist of knuckle-dragging big hitters who will haul themselves out of their respective rain-soaked hovels with either the intention of trying to 'take' the town or 'defend' the town. Unpleasant as it is, the vast majority of peaceful fans, myself included, will be left largely untroubled by these hooligans who have a perverse code of honour of not attacking ordinary fans.
In contrast there's the other set of thugs which the ordinary law-biding fan will be a lot more wary of and it's only a small mercy that they can be easily identified. They wear the same uniform, have steel toe-capped boots, riot helmets and other paraphernalia - essentially looking like an army. They will be given every tool available by the state (short of firearms); helicopters, dogs, riot shields, mobile CCTV vans and, crucially because it's a C+ game, the ability to act above the law. I'm of course referring to the Police, and unlike the aforementioned group of thugs, their thuggery will be indiscriminate - everyone will be fair game for a whack of the baton (or worse); men, women & children.
Years ago I apologised to a copper I lived next door to in - as later turned out mistaken - shame on behalf of my fellow supporters for ruining his Sunday off because our match had been moved which meant he was called in. Revealingly his response was;
"Don't worry, it means I'm allowed to hit people and get paid double-time for the privilege"From experience I have no reason to doubt his sentiments. I've been spat at, punched, grabbed by the throat to the point of being strangled and batoned by Police Officers for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time and trying very politely to exercise my rights. I've seen much worse happen to fellow supporters, and I've got off very lightly compared to others:
Until 11 September last year, the police were rather admired in the Meyers household. All that changed in a few dreadful seconds on Reading station, when the two of them were forced to watch as officers handcuffed Tony's older son, 20-year-old Leeds University student Tommy, forced him on to the ground, and set a police dog on him. The dog bit fiercely into Tommy's face – he couldn't even raise his handcuffed hands to protect himself. The injuries will be with him for the rest of his life, partly because the police refused him access to antibiotics for 14 hours, by which time infection had taken hold.And:
Augur politely appealed to [the Police]. "I told them that he was a 15-year-old boy for whom I was responsible," says Augur, but he was curtly rebuffed, and the police started pushing people. "I was knocked into my younger son, John. The dog handler allowed the dog sufficient rein so that it could get at my other son, James. I saw the dog sink his teeth into James's lower leg. It was obvious he was in pain. I shouted to the police: 'That's my son, let him go.'"Throw a piece of chewing gum at a football match?
Augur kicked out at the dog. The animal released James and turned on him, sinking its teeth into his leg. He fell to the floor. "I saw the dog in my face. I was horrified and frightened."
The dog was pulled away, and two or three policemen seized him. "I was on the floor with them holding me down. I felt a tremendous kick to my right side underneath my armpit. I was gasping for breath. I really thought I was going to die. A few seconds later I felt someone standing on my back, holding me down with their foot."I managed to look to my right and I saw two policemen holding James on the floor. He was shouting: 'Help me, Dad, help me.' A policeman punched him in the face while he was being held down on the floor.
With the advent of camera phones, it should be easy to record this stuff for future complaints but any attempt to use such a device openingly is enough to ensure an even more robust Police response. Before 2008 cameras were just forcibly removed even though there was no legal basis for that to happen, now the Police can, and do, simply invoke Section 76 of the 2008 Counter Terrorism Act.
A Luton Town fan has been banned from attending any football matches for three years for throwing chewing gum at a game.
Martin Wilson, of Townsley Close, Luton, pleaded guilty to ‘throwing an unknown missile’ at visiting supporters contrary to Sections 2 and 5 of the Football (Offences) Act 1991.
Wilson was also fined £615 which included court costs.
Sharp eyed readers will have noticed that my game has been moved from a Saturday fixture to an early Sunday kick-off. The reason being according to the Football Intelligence Officer (an oxymoron if ever there was one) is to limit alcohol consumption:
The key words here are; "too much alcohol being consumed". That bit is true but it would be a fallacy to assume that the Police want to prevent fans visiting the pub before a game altogether thus to be stone cold sober - and the reason is simple.
Acting Detective Sergeant James Neighbour, Swindon’s football liaison officer, said reducing the amount of drinking time before the match was the main reason it was moved.
He said: “It was a decision made in consultation with the football club.
“It was decided firstly it should be an early kick-off to prevent too much alcohol being consumed before.
“And the reason for holding it on the Sunday is to negate any disorder as much as we can. The fact the next day is a working day dissuades people from drinking as much as perhaps they would on a Saturday.
By allowing a certain amount of restricted pub time before a game gives two advantages. Not only does it mean that the Police can legally 'kettle' you in a confined area but that you've been in a pub helps their defence later on - "yes your honour not only was he attending a match where there was potential for trouble causing significant problems for the Police but he spent a couple of hours in the pub beforehand". That way they have the perfect defence for their more 'robust responses'. Whether you had spent that time drinking coke in the pub becomes irrelevant - you're a football fan and you've been in a pub so de facto your basic rights have been suspended.
And as you enter the pub that you have been forced to march to courtesy of a Police escort, you will be searched, your wallet rummaged through, details taken (even though illegal under Section 60), filmed by Police camcorders and your picture taken with a camera that has an oversized flash on it - that temporarily blinds you.
This Sunday undoubtedly the papers will be crammed full of more articles on the London riots with lots of 'chin-stroking-what-does-it-all-mean' commentary, meanwhile in a small corner of Wiltshire countless law-abiding citizens will be subjected to Police actions that will be contrary to the rule of law.
Even Shami Chakrabarti, someone I'm a frequent critic of, understands these concerns well:
"I have come to be horrified at some of the treatment that law-abiding fans have experienced. We are in danger of demonising anyone who goes to football matches."And PCC commissioner Nicholas Long:
"I am surprised that we see as few complaints and referrals as we do from policing of football matches. The police should not imagine that the majority of people attending football matches are bent on violence."But I suppose expecting any of those self-appointed experts in the media to care is a bit like asking for the moon on a stick.