Do I not like that . . .The folly of a terrace rant: Simon Inglis finds little substance in Kenneth Clarke's ill-timed attack on the Taylor Report

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The Independent Online
YOB culture reared its ugly shaven head again with the publication yesterday of the sensational bar-stool rantings of a Nottingham Forest fan calling himself 'the Chancellor'.

Apparently this 'Chancellor' character - a football casual, well-known to police sources for appearing at games in loafers and revealed in the media only last Monday to be an increasing burden on the tax-payer - has been mouthing off at the Taylor Report and all-seater stadiums, moaning about Mrs Thatcher, and rejecting any link between Government policy and the decline in football hooliganism.

'If people want to fight, they will fight,' the 54-year-old battle- hardened, chain-smoking Chancellor, known to his mates as Ken, has reportedly claimed in a book called Football and the Commons People, which is due to be published next month.

Big Ken also reckons that the Taylor Report has not made 'a jot of difference' to levels of safety at British football grounds and was accepted by politicians who never attend matches.

Politicians, presumably, like Dave 'Mellboy' Mellor, the first minister at the newly created Department of National Heritage, responsible for implementing the Taylor Report and now acting as a voice of the fans on Radio 5. Politicians like the former Chancellor John Major, who made his own protest against the Taylor Report by agreeing, back in 1990, to grant football clubs around pounds 20m a year of tax-payers' money to implement the all-seater rule.

So unpopular was this move by the Chelsea occasional Major that another Tory Chancellor - a jazz- loving softie by the name of Kenneth Clarke - extended the concession for a further five-year period in August 1993. 'What a waste of money,' the jovial Clarke must have chanted as he signed the order papers. By then some pounds 100m of tax-payers' money had been invested in ground improvements via the Football Trust, money which no doubt Clarke felt could easily have been used to help reduce interest rates.

Presumably the public coffers have also suffered from a drop in football's spending on policing, as stewards increasingly replace the boys in blue - another direct result of the Taylor Report. For their part, the police and safety experts are virtually unanimous in seeing the all-seater rule as an important contributor to the reduction in violence inside grounds.

Meanwhile, local ambulance and first aid agencies have reported a drop in the number of injuries being treated since the terraces were closed. Where there have been serious incidents since Hillsborough, for example at Stockport, Burnley and Sheffield United, they have resulted from crushes on terraces.

Gates, as is well documented, are on the increase too, boosted at many clubs by the larger numbers of women and children now attending, although as Big Ken and his gang are only too aware, we should be wary of falling into the Thatcherite trap of heeding market forces too closely. After all, what do football fans know? A return to the days of badly managed terraces, perimeter fences and mass policing might do us all a power of good. So what if it costs 96 innocent lives, so long as Big Ken has his fun.

When the Football Licensing authority started its statutory duties in 1990, its inspectors found that at many grounds the previous controls set up by the 1975 Safety of Sports Grounds had failed to eradicate the kind of practices which made the Hillsborough disaster possible. Safety certificates were found to be out of date or non-existent in many cases. A fortress mentality had seen clubs abdicate all responsibility for crowd safety to the police.

In extreme cases there were examples of a stand roof being propped up by a car-jack, of crush barriers that had failed routine checks, and of exit doors that were locked and bolted during games - five years after the Bradford fire. It was a shirkers' paradise.

In June 1996 the all-seater City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest, will host games in the European Championships. By then, presumably the likes of 'the Chancellor' will not find it so easy to muscle their way into a free seat for an event which has been granted by Uefa to Britain only because of the post-Taylor ground improvements.

Poor confused Ken. Or are we to dismiss this latest outburst from a beleaguered sub-culture in our society as simply another example of misplaced exuberance?

Simon Inglis is the author of 'The Football Grounds of Great Britain'

(Photograph omitted)

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