FSF chief against lifetime bans

Published: Sunday 8th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Football supporters’ chiefs have called for proportionality in punishments for fans convicted of offences during Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final clash between Aston Villa and West Brom.

Home supporters twice invaded the pitch during their side’s 2-0 victory over the Baggies at Villa Park, while seats were thrown from the upper tier of the stand holding visiting contingent on to the spectators below.

West Brom boss Tony Pulis later voiced his support for lifetime bans for anyone convicted of throwing seats as both clubs vowed to take strong action against offenders, with West Midlands Police and the Football Association also launching investigations.

However, Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters’ Federation, urged the authorities to make the punishment fit the crime.

Mr Clarke said: “If people do something wrong, they must expect to be sanctioned. I think talk of lifetime bans is over the top, I’m afraid.

“Are we really saying that in 50 years’ time, one of these young people – if it was young people – couldn’t take their grandchildren to a football match? I don’t think so.

“You have got to have punishments which are proportionate to the offence. The law at the moment has a maximum 10-year period for a football banning order, so it would be rather odd for people to start talking about lifetime bans.

“You could go to prison for a serious violent assault at a football match and the courts might give you a 10-year football banning order, so are we seriously saying that someone who damages a seat gets a lifetime ban?

“We have got to retain a sense of proportionality about all of this.”

The pitch invasions, one of which came shortly before the final whistle and the other after it, divided opinion with some onlookers claiming it represented little more than a collective outpouring of joy for the Villa supporters.

And that is a view with which Clarke has some sympathy.

He said: “It’s very important to retain a sense of perspective here. As far as I could see, this was a celebratory invasion not an aggressive one.

“There is a distinction between aggressive invasions, where people are trying to attack somebody else, and celebratory ones.

“We would certainly advise fans not to do that. It is a criminal offence so you always run the risk of ending up in court if you are not careful. It’s not advisable, but actually it’s not the biggest issue in the world, I would say about that one.

“If there was criminal damage to some seats, that’s quite wrong and, again, anybody who is identified as being responsible for that must expect to receive some sanction.

“It’s clearly not defensible to do that, but every Saturday night in pubs and clubs up and down the country people damage things. It’s wrong and it’s deplorable, but one incident at one football match when these kind of things happen very regularly in pubs and clubs on a Saturday night up and down the country gets blown up out of all proportion.

“Sometimes, people misbehave, at football matches, in pubs, in clubs, in the street or wherever, and that’s deplorable. But let’s not castigate football fans for just one incident.

“The actual incidence of disorder at football matches has hugely declined in recent years, so that’s a cause for celebration.”

Nevertheless, it proved a difficult weekend for Midlands football with police, who made 17 arrests, also investigating a disturbance at the Witton Arms pub before the Villa game, while a 44-year-old Watford fan is critically ill in hospital after being attacked on his way to the railway station following the Hornets’ 2-2 Championship draw at Wolves.

Clarke, who wished the unnamed man a full recovery, said: “Whether they are a football fan or whether they are not, it’s totally unacceptable to assault people to any extent, but particularly to that extent, so obviously if they are caught presumably they will be brought before the courts and the law will take its course, which is entirely appropriate.

“Football fans should never be above the law.”

Published: Sunday 8th March 2015 by The News Editor

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