Football fans are uncivilised?
Have you ever wondered how we have got into the state we have regarding how fans intermingle at matches and at places to watch matches such as pubs, town squares, etc? First maybe I should ask have you ever been to watch a match at the Arsenal? If so you will see huge teams of police and stewards everywhere inside and outside the stadium. Something like 300 police and 700 stewards are required for big matches. That means a 1000 wages have to be paid just so human beings behave themselves. There are some high ranking and well paid commanders from club and police included in that number who oversee operations from a control room. Plus there are cctv cameras to cover every part of the ground and outside so errant fans can be identified. These cost a lot to be installed and maintained.
So that’s it? Human beings are not able to act in a civilized way? Here in Sofia, many denizens hate the Levski/CSKA derbies because of the violence, policing and road closures. And football in Bulgaria does not attract big crowds. People hit each other, sometimes fatally, because they support a different football club. Can we not see the madness in this? Is that it? We are a crazy species who have no idea how to control ourselves? Maybe that is the starting point of this discussion. Can we work on this madness?
Can we get to Nirvana?
First we surely must assess what we see as an ideal. For me it is simple, no police except to control petty crime like pickpockets, although even that profession seems to be dying as no-one carries cash anymore, and no stewards except those that are there to help get fans to their right seats, help in medical emergencies such as heart attacks, etc. So one ideal is to have no policing us not to hit other fans like maniacs.
The Blues, and the Yellow and Green of Dublin and Kerry at an all Ireland Final
Fans to sit together and have banter with each other without ever descending into the darkness that seems to exist within us. I have regularly sat or stood with opposing fans and I can assure you they are not in any danger from me. I would not celebrate Ireland or Arsenal scoring though, for fear of being attacked. Other sports such as rugby and Ireland’s own Gaelic games do not segregate fans despite also attracting huge numbers, some 80,000 for All Ireland finals. I feel that must be target 2, fans are not segregated.
You won fair and square
Another are pubs and suchlike. There are in London, pubs where opposing fans are not welcome. Why can’t we go and support our teams in safety. I have been in Ireland in many places where opposing fans gather, cheer when their team scores and go quiet when the other side celebrates their goals. There is singing and banter and I have had some great times at such events. Kerry vs Dublin All Ireland Gaelic football finals energise the whole of Dublin with an atmosphere so electric the sparks are fizzing everywhere. And yet it is normally safe. And we usually concede when the better side won. “In fairness, boys, you deserved to win”. 3, then is we have fun with other fans.
It seems some fans can get together and have fun without bashing the other's head in
I would be quite happy to do the same if I was in a pub or ground with Spud fans. I have been in pubs with Man Utd fans who after the match discovered that I was an Arsenal fan but have had civilized discussions with me.
Why can’t the majority win this one?
Of course, one can see straight away the connection between these 3 areas highlighted. If the pure craziness of fans beating each other stopped, then the other 2 would flow from that. If there was no violence fans would go to matches to have fun and a laugh with opposing fans.
Can we have a truly great time at this place?
I reckon, as I have spoken to both Arsenal fans and fans from many clubs, that the vast majority of us want what I am saying here, the feeling that we are going to a fun event, not a tribal hatred one. Here in ASCB, in this very website, we have a policy of being respectful to other clubs and the fans throughout ASCB seem to be the same.
What can we do?
So that is my opinion, to truly enjoy football, we need to eliminate the violent craziness that exists within some of us. How could we do that?
I feel we have a backwards approach to this problem. More policing, more cctv, segregation of fans, being herded around like sheep and so on has definitely alleviated the problem. I haven’t got really frightened so much as in the 70’s and 80’s. Punishment of errant fans with bans as well has also had a role but these are all predicated on the belief that we are an inherently violent species. The majority of good fans have to live with these inconveniences because of the crazies. We need to dream up a different way that involves us having fun, not getting oppressed more and more
I can understand people being pushed into a war by the dark forces at the top looking to gain some advantage. I can understand criminals being violent to protect their patches from other criminals. I certainly do not agree with these actions but can understand why they happen. But surely there is no logic to one football fan attacking another because they support a different club? They are the same people, they both love football but have an inherent need to explode into nasty aggression? Please, someone who has done this explain to me why you have? What do you gain? I hope there is someone out there reading this column who can do that for me. You can do so anonymously of course.
They are not really shit, you know
What can we ordinary fans do to bring about change? I think we need to call out any instances of hatred towards another club. We need to ditch songs that inspire hatred. I never stand to show I hate Tottenham. I never say Tottenham are shit. They have the sixth most trophies in English football so they are better than most. We are 3rd so are we shit because there are teams better than us?
A holistic approach is needed
We need to stop the abuse of referees as without them there can be no football. Yes, we should always try and improve them but fan groupings should get together with referee groupings to explore how to help referees and yes, eliminate, as far as possible any mistakes they might make. We should not be screaming abuse at referees.
We need refs far more than a lot of fans concede
Nowadays we can record instances of fans being racist or aggressive or saying or singing demeaning things about other fans or the ref, club, players or manager. I guess we could report them and they could get bans. But first we must acknowledge that a lot of football fans sing oppressive songs. I truly believe that there is a peer pressure here as the majority of fans don’t seem to really hate other fans, in my experience, but so many still sing these songs. Perhaps the clubs could give a match ban to any fans caught singing such songs. If they give enough advance warning that they will do so from some future date fans will know they could get banned.
We need leadership
First though, you would need education and leadership from the associations, clubs, players, and fan groupings that they want to have the fun that could be had by ditching the violent tendencies. We need to agree what we want and how we could go about achieving it. Mankind has so much imagination in so many areas. We need to utilize that imagination to explore ways to bring the fun back to football. To make football matches a civilized, yet electric atmosphere where fans bounce back and forth with witty songs and nevertheless we are capable of applauding the winning team at the end. If we truly accept that we can only enjoy ourselves by putting fellow fans in hospital then we really are a crazy species.
An electric atmosphere created by everyone happy to be there
To sum up, we need to talk about and agree what we would like to have as a matchday experience, and then figure out how that may be achieved. Step by small step if necessary. Am I asking too much?