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Like cattle in a kettle
Tuesday, April 30 2013

The RamsTrust board thought our members and readers might find this article interesting. It is, of course, now historic but raises awareness of the issues around 'kettling'

It was written by Posh (Peterborough) Trust director Peter Lloyd who is also a member of the Supporters Direct Council for England & Wales football along with RamsTrust's Elaine Dean and Malcolm Turner.

Like cattle in a kettle

Monday March 25, 2013

Peter Lloyd describes how the police are using trivial safety concerns to restrict freedom of movement among football fans.

If you are a supporter of the fairly successful Championship football team Hull City, and want to drive your family over to Huddersfield for a day out this coming Easter Saturday, taking in your club’s next match……well, you can’t.

You’ve never committed a crime in your life, been involved in any trouble at a match, and just want to introduce your young family to an exciting leisure activity which gives pleasure to millions of people every week. Forget it.

West Yorkshire Police says no.

There must surely be a very good reason why you would be denied this pleasure. Actually, there isn’t. It just happens not to be convenient for West Yorkshire Police.

Such is the cultural obsession with risk avoidance that the police can hide behind the fact that they could be reducing the chance of a single incidence of disorder. That’s enough of an excuse to disrupt the enjoyment of thousands of people.

There is no history of spectator trouble between the two clubs. Hull City supporters are well behaved, with a total of just 14 arrests at home and away matches combined, in the whole of the last season of more than 50 games.

That’s amongst the lowest in their league and is a paltry number bearing in mind the twenty thousand or so who attend every match. So enfeebled have clubs and supporters become in standing up to the police and the “safety groups” who decide on these bans, that it has taken a determined and principled boy, aged just 15 years, to bring the matter to a head. He lives in Manchester, but because of the restrictions imposed would only be allowed to travel to the match by licensed coach from Hull. He faced a 350 mile round trip for a match taking place just 30 miles from where he lives.

His case was taken up by the Football Supporters Federation and civil liberties solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn, and a judicial review of the police decision loomed. But by offering to make special arrangements for him to get to the match, Hull City executives inadvertently undermined the case. The restrictions would therefore not apply to him, but remain on everyone else.

The boy in question, Louis Cooper, showing commendable spirit said “I’m obviously disappointed that the action can’t go any further as I was doing this not just for myself but for all football fans. I, like many others, will be boycotting the game and making a peaceful protest on the day.”

Matches such as this are “bubble” matches, so called because the restrictions are so severe that those attending are effectively “kettled” and transported across the country with a police escort. The Free Society article “ Kettling on the Road” explains how it works.

A full report on the prevalence of “bubble” matches written for The Manifesto Club can be seen here , but what is particularly worrying about this latest case is that, unlike some previous “bubble” matches, there was no reason to expect any trouble at all from this game.

Despite this, and on top of the travel restrictions, only 1,500 tickets were made available to Hull City supporters for a stand in the Huddersfield Town ground which holds 4,000 spectators.

But at last a major football club is prepared to stand up publicly for its own supporters trapped by an out of touch and unaccountable system. The Hull City FC statement said:

“The key message that both the Football Supporters’ Federation and Hull City are seeking to highlight is that football is a spectator sport that is made complete by the presence of fans, home and away, with singing, banter, rivalry and a little rough humour; all of which combines with the match itself to create the heady cocktail of atmosphere that gives fans a great day out. Without fans, football stands at risk of becoming a dry, sterile affair lacking such emotion and passion that supporters so enthusiastically provide.”

The same police force, West Yorkshire, has been trying to claim that it should not have to pay for the policing of football fans in the towns and cities where the matches are taking place (the clubs always pay for police costs in and around the ground itself). The force took its legal claim on the matter (which was against Leeds United FC) all the way to the Appeal Court where the Master of the Rolls, supported by two other senior judges, ruled in favour of the football club stating:

“The policing of the extended footprint on match days is provided in order to maintain law and order and protect life and property in a public place. None of the arguments advanced on behalf of West Yorkshire Police persuades me that the law and order services provided by them in the extended footprint are different in principle from the law and order services that they provide in any other public place.”

As the judgement implied, football supporters should be deemed as ordinary people, not sub humans, who are going about a lawful leisure activity. They should not be criminalised or treated differently from other members of the public in the absence of a specific threat to public order.

It’s about time the police and safety authorities acted within the spirit of that judgement, and in line with Louis Cooper’s intuitive understanding of his right to go to a football match unimpeded by the police.

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