The Evolution and Effectiveness of Football Banning Orders

By Stott, Clifford; Pearson, Geoff | The International Sports Law Journal, January-April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Evolution and Effectiveness of Football Banning Orders


Stott, Clifford, Pearson, Geoff, The International Sports Law Journal


Framing the banning order debate

As we have seen, the disorder in Marseille and Charleroi brought the debate about hooliganism by English fans abroad back to the front pages of the newspapers--and to the front benches of the House of Commons. However, the rhetoric had not evolved at all from that of the late 1980s, following the disorder in Germany and Sweden. No one appeared ready to tackle what, for us, was the central issue: why was it that some England away matches would pass off peacefully, while others resulted in major disorder? Why was it that England fans were involved in a large-scale riot in Marseille at the 1998 World Cup, but that the same fans did not fight at the following match in Toulouse? How could sixty thousand Manchester United fans, including many identified by the police as 'troublemakers', descend on Barcelona in 1999 with barely a single arrest?

In short, our contention is that, despite its widespread popularity the theory that wide-scale disorder was caused by individuals who travelled with the intention of 'kicking it off ' could not explain the wildly different outcomes when large numbers of English football supporters followed their team in Europe. But despite its limitations as a theory, it was this account that still dominated media and political debates about the subject. Most significantly, it was felt that if the hooligans could be identified and prevented from travelling, then the problem could be solved. The argument that removing known troublemakers from a crowd would stop hooliganism was the same proposal that gained popularity in the late 1980s, and led to the introduction of the National Identity Card Scheme in Part One of the Football Spectators Act 1989.1 The ID Card Scheme was conceived and introduced as an attempt by the then Conservative government to 'break the link' between football and hooliganism, by excluding hooligans from all football grounds in the UK (although the scheme was never actually implemented).

Attempts to ban fans by the football authorities

Football banning orders in their current form arise from legislation (the Football Spectators Act 1989, as amended by the Football [Disorder] Act 2000) but the idea of excluding those identified as troublemakers from matches, or from travelling to a country hosting a match, is not a new one. The first attempts to ban English supporters from travelling abroad came from the football clubs and authorities themselves, following notable early incidents of disorder involving Manchester United supporters at St. Etienne and Tottenham Hotspur fans in Rotterdam. Manchester United, for example, banned its own supporters from attending European away ties in the early 1980s, although Buford documents that many United fans travelled to a key 1984 European Cup-Winners' Cup tie in Turin anyway. (2) Following Heysel, of course, the ultimate sanction was imposed when all English clubs were banned front European club competitions by UEFA. However, given that it was only club sides that faced the ban, many fans simply started to follow the national side abroad instead. During this time, the Football Association also made attempts to stop England fans travelling--for example, by refusing to take up their ticket allocation for a key World Cup qualifier in Sweden in 1989. The subsequent disorder that occurred was almost certainly escalated by the confusion and frustration among those hundreds of England fans who travelled anyway, to try to gain entry to the ground without official tickets.

So attempts by clubs and governing bodies to stop English fans travelling were largely unsuccessful at tackling the English disease. The simple fact is that fans were willing to travel to matches without tickets, independently of their club or the FA, the clubs and authorities having no legal power to prevent them travelling or even attending games. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest these bans may even have exacerbated trouble, with fans purchasing tickets for the home sections of foreign grounds in the absence of an official away allocation, or 'mobbing up' and marching to the ground in the often quite valid hope that the authorities may allow them entry to avoid disorder (as occurred in Sweden, 1989). …

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