The perception gap

There are twelve of them. Photographs of men involved in what the Police now euphemistically call “violent scenes” but we used to call football hooliganism. The Police are quick to point out that these are a tiny minority.

At Sincil Bank on Saturday reporters from the Lincolnshire Echo were bedded in with Police, covering the game between Lincoln City and the Bantams.

The fact that the Police are deployed in such huge numbers for lower league games is a matter of some controversy – the majority of the time they are tasked with little more than answering the odd question about which end might be the away end – but on Saturday they had work to do in the away end.

Early on in the game a section of City fans are abusing the linesman and the “banter” started over the top and got worse. I feel culpable – I worry that my criticism of linesman leads to someone else abusing which leads to someone else attacking – but I want no part of the homophobia which is being poured at the official who seems to get his own back keeping a flag down when Omar Daley is fouled and when Gareth Evans is shoved in the back leading to the home side’s first goal.

One wonders where the Police are, where the stewards are, in this situation. Were the abuse racial and not homophobic then without a doubt there would be more of an imperative for them to be involved – when was the last time a club put out a message about kicking homophobia out of football? – and would we want stewards and Police coming over and telling fans what they can and cannot say?

Eventually the stewards come to the men as they advance forward towards the side of the pitch with a message of calming down. The abuse simmers down which perhaps is credit to the softly softly approach of the stewards.

This is put to a test in the second half when a single fan starts an aggressive chant about T&A writer Simon Parker. He is allowed to continue to the bafflement of some and the amusement of others. What Parker must have thought about that one can only guess but for a moment it is worth contemplating that these two individuals – the linesman and the writer – are both the target of abuse that is treated differently in different contexts. Neither seems right, but for different reasons.

A third incident is more testing for the Police and the stewards. A young lad dressed in the traditional Chav uniform of Burberry scarf and cap is on the phone at the front and then ten minutes later is causing problems at the back, shouting at the home fans, turning heads in the crowd. Soon men in florescent jackets are running to the scene.

Incidents like this are difficult to report. Every view has a different take on events. BfB’s Jason McKeown gives one view as he looks down on events and details some, other fans see it and a patchwork of reports give an impression. Sincere apologies if it is factually incorrect, it is the recollections of a number of people.

The lad in Burberry is tackled by a half dozen stewards and is dragged across the front of the away fans – half way up the stand – to be ejected from the ground. Another lad has his legs outstretched and a steward trips over them. There is a flashpoint with the steward thinking he has been tripped and the innocent fan taking what is described as a punch. None of this can be seen by most of the crowd although the spill out afterwards can but before the day is done the version of events which is correlated here has done the rounds of City fan’s mobile phones. It is impossible to say if it is true or not but it is certainly what is being talked about.

The fan is innocent and as a result scuffling has broken out between stewards and supporters. It is a worrying flashpoint with six Stewards having inadvisedly got into the middle of a group of fans and seemingly – probably to regret – gone on the attack. The men at the front have turned attentions away from the lines man and one tugs his scarf over his face to cover his mouth and nose, the disguise favoured by the hooligan of old.

No one seems to know what has happened to the guy with his legs outstretched, or the Chav, but rumours in the following days have it afterwards he went to the Police to report the actions of the steward.

The incident calms down eventually but not before Radio Leeds have mistaken a “You don’t know what your doing” chant aimed at the steward as one aimed at McCall following a substitution. Attention turns back to the pitch and when the game ends and within minutes fans of Lincoln and Bradford City are walking next to each other away from the ground.

The point?

Take a look again at the photographs of men in Manchester. Image three, image four, image six, image eleven. Not the faces of young men yet there is a perception that the only problems at football are caused by people under a certain age. That football hooliganism is back in a younger generation having been purged from the old.

The veracity of this I’d question. As with the photographs from Manchester within the Bradford City fans who shouted abuse in these three incidents there is no age barrier in people involved in events that cause interest and perhaps the difference comes how the problems are handled by Police and Stewards.

Perhaps it is a perception that only the younger fans cause trouble worth addressing or perhaps they see it easier for Stewards to tackle young lads than it is people forty plus who are doing the same.