Posts Tagged 'Premier League'

Words we never say…

John Terry has been found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand – does this verdict clear him though?

So it’s official, following a week of intense legal wrangling Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle has reached the conclusion that whilst John Terry’s language towards Anton Ferdinand was unpleasant, it wasn’t racist.

As far as legal action goes, Terry is in the clear.

Terry’s defence wasn’t that he hadn’t uttered racist words – indeed that he hadn’t traded several insults with Ferdinand – but that he was merely repeating to Ferdinand the contents of an accusation that he thought had been leveled at him.

Lip readers have not been able to prove contrary to Terry’s account, no one else on the pitch appeared to have overheard the exchange and Terry was assessed as a credible witness.

The court had to prove ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ that Terry was guilty, this standard wasn’t felt to have been met and so the only option was to release Terry without charge.

This is likely the end of the criminal justice system’s involvement in the matter.

What remains to be seen is how The FA deal with Terry, how their course of action bares on their own Respect Campaign and the attitude of fans themselves.

First of all, from past experience when West Midlands Police officers comment on footballer’s conduct some fiery responses have been provoked from fans and senior football figures alike. Superintendent Payne’s blog on Wayne Rooney raised a response from Alex Ferguson himself and made the national news.

With this in mind, I’ll preface my thoughts with the disclaimer that they’re my opinion only and I don’t speak with any particular knowledge of the footballing world. I’d consider myself reasonably impartial – whilst I take an interest in law and order I don’t have a great deal to do with football and so looking at some things that happen in the ‘beautiful game’ through a policeman’s eye, I am weary that I run the risk of misunderstanding their context.

Having followed the trial up to its conclusion, I’m of the opinion that even if Terry’s behaviour was not proven to have been racist, it’s certainly was not in any way appropriate either on or off the pitch.

Professional footballers are the closest things to role models that many youngsters are likely to get. They’re worshiped, idolised and their images invade the consciousness of youth around the world.

With such a powerful status there’s an equally demanding responsibility to live up to their positions – to take heed of the respect that they find invested in themselves.

Verbal tirades against each other on live television do nothing to reassure me that certain footballers are interested in reflecting their profession in a positive light.

It’s all very well wearing the Respect Campaign logo on their sleeves but without action to back up their commitment, it all seems a bit pointless.

This stretches beyond the players. Standing between the opposing fans at Villa Park whilst attached to the Football Unit earlier this year, the one thing that struck me was the level of abuse traded between the two sets of fans.

Some paid no attention at all to the game and I watched two parents spend the whole of the ninety minutes screaming abuse at the rival fans, apparently oblivious to their ten year old son who was sandwiched between them.

Of course I’d hate to imply this impression is representative of all footballers or fans – I’ve no reason to think it is and know that the vast majority of those who pay to watch football, or who are paid slightly more to play it, do so out of a love for the game.

The impression I get from examples such as those seen at the ground and Terry’s well documented case is that it seems hard to describe football as ‘beautiful’ – it has an ugly side that The FA would do well to address.

I can’t see that this is a new issue – I think we see much less violence on the terraces than we did, say, back in the eighties and too can see that football is a passionate game.

In the heat of the moment words will always be exchanged that may raise a few eyebrows in the Post Office – a line is crossed though when these words are sufficient to land a player in a criminal court.

Likewise with racist or sexist chanting, a line too is crossed from banter to criminality and this not only spoils the game but damages the good reputation that football deserves.

Terry was charged under S. 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 accused of using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour’.

I’m keen to see how The FA interpret S. 3(1) of their own rules, nearly identical in that it seeks to prohibit the use of ‘threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour’.

Terry is in the clear as far as criminal law goes, in terms of the ethics of the game though I think that Terry and others have a lot to answer for.

With a change in attitudes there’s no reason that football can’t be beautiful again – the John Terry case suggests a change of attitudes is sorely needed.

P.S. You can read more about how the police and Crown Prosecution Service arrived at the decision to charge Terry by checking out my blog from last year on that very subject. You can also find out more about the Public Order Act on another of my blogs from last March.

You can read the full text of the ruling here (be advised – choice language alert!) and to find out more about racism in sport, have a look at Kick It Out, Show Racism The Red Card and the FARE Network.

Win that ball, head for the goal, use your stealth, don’t lose control…

A Day In The LifeParading at Aston Police Station, Saturday March 31st 2012, Tour of Duty – 09:30 to 18:00

Alongside all of the regular constables who are assigned to work at the big football matches in the Midlands, a small team of specialist officers from the Football Unit attend the games to help ensure that everything runs smoothly. This shift I joined them for the Aston Villa v Chelsea game, kick off at 15:00.

The Football Unit work out of Aston Police Station so I head over there and am greeted by PC Bladen who was busily updating the Unit’s official twitter page giving fans directions about how best to get to the ground and which pubs to head to. We have a quick tour of the office and I am introduced to two Metropolitan Police officers who have traveled up with the Chelsea fans.

Each force operates a similar types of football units and the officers get to know each other as they travel around the country exchanging information on upcoming features such as who’s likely to attend and what the potential is for trouble.

Being police officers we’re always hungry so first things first we hop into the CCTV van and head into Erdington for one of the biggest breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Remember the Big Breakfast on TV? Well, it was a bigger breakfast than that. It was fantastic, although it did mean I wouldn’t have been able to chase anyone for the next hour or so!

Big breakfasts done we pile back into the van and head over the the city centre where officers from the British Transport Police have indicated that away fans are now beginning to arrive. The van is equipped with a variety of cameras and monitoring equipment, however it’s only used when needed and as there weren’t any issues remained switched off.

One of the main roles of the Football Unit is to spot and deter trouble early on. To this end the officers know the names and faces of the ringleaders and are able to advise the control room of any concerns.

The fans today were pretty much all in good spirits and after an hour or so checking the bars in the town centre, we moved back towards the Villa ground where the bulk of the fans were now heading. The turnstiles were open, the police in place and supporters were disembarking their coaches and wondering towards the ground chanting “Villa!” (mainly the Villa fans) and “Chelsea!” (mainly the Chelsea fans) as they did so.

Officers are positioned at the turnstiles on the lookout for anyone too drunk to enter (it’s against the law to try and enter a designated game whilst drunk) whilst the Football Unit head out on foot and mix in with the crowd.

Just after kickoff time we head into the ground too, entering via Villa Park’s own custody suite, and take our place in the corner of the ground between the home and away fans*. It’s at this point that I realise just how loud a bunch of loud Londoners can be – very loud indeed. They shout and scream and then Chelsea score which does nothing to clam them down whilst the Villa fans exchange ‘pleasantries’ with their visitors and sing songs about Torres not scoring.

Standing between the two groups, the Football Unit officers scan the crowds on the lookout for anyone getting a little too excited and are ready to act if necessary but don’t need to as the fans are too busy bouncing up and down to cause any real trouble.

After a half time tea we head back to our vantage point and watch the fans as they become more and more excited with Villa equalising, only for Ivanovic to think “I don’t think so” and score another goal to pull Chelsea into the lead again with only minutes to go to full time.

Four minutes extra time are added, Villa aren’t able to add any goals to their tally and so the lose with the final blow of the whistle. The Football Unit now moves back outside the game and continue to monitor the fans, escorting one large group of Chelsea fans down to the train station where they are whisked away into New Street.

With the match over and the fans slowly melting away, the job of the Football Unit is nearly done for another match day. We climb back into the CCTV van and check on a few of the pubs to find that they are nearly empty before heading back to the station for a debrief and a packed lunch.

The game has gone well (for the Football Unit and Chelsea at least) and in total I believe there was only one arrest which isn’t bad going considering the tens of thousands attending. I take off my stab vest and equipment belt, pocket a couple of KitKat Crunchies from the lunch box and head home looking forward to watching Match of the Day.

* By which I obviously mean football fans, not soap fans.

The Football Unit's CCTV van.

Patrolling near the Doug Ellis Stand at Villa Park.

Inside the stadium with one of the Inspectors watching over the (very loud) Chelsea fans.

Nearing the end of the match, officers from the Football Unit watch over the fans.

To see tweets from yesterday’s game, search the hashtag #footballunit, for more photos from the match please see the Facebook gallery and if you’re interested in the Aston Villa Football Unit you can follow them on Twitter. The other regional teams have accounts too, see here for a list.

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