Exclusive: Police warn of problems controlling hooliganism
Fewer officers mean banning orders are harder to enforce
Police have warned English football risks complacency in the fight against hooliganism after a supporter's guilty plea for a breaches of a banning order revealed the lengths that some will go to maintain a presence at games.
The orders are a source of deep suspicion among football fans, with evidence that some forces are imposing them for crimes as minor as drunkenness or swearing. But police insisted they were the only way of deterring supporters capable of causing disorder and said the case of Manchester United fan Paul Hodgson revealed the challenge of enforcing them.
Hodgson, who was told he may now face jail, was tracked to a hotel in San Sebastian two weeks ago after spinning an elaborate web of deceit to evade his ban and attend the club's tie against Real Sociedad.
It was the fifth time he had sought to evade his ban to attend a Champions League game. Hodgson was banned after throwing a missile on to the pitch at St James' Park when Sir Alex Ferguson's side played Newcastle United in January 2012. He will be sentenced next month.
Police said Hodgson's elaborate charade to avoid detection demonstrated the need for resources to underpin the banning order regime, at a time when the number of orders issued has fallen.
The Independent understands that a report submitted by the UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) to the Policing Minister, Damien Green, shows that banning orders dropped 18 per cent last season compared with the 2011-12 season, from 2,909 to 2,383. Match-day arrests were marginally up between those two seasons, with arrests for violence more than doubling from 273 to 554.
The 4 per cent rise in arrests was small compared with a record low in 2011-12 and the figures show that there was only one arrest for every 14,000 fans. But police believe that banning orders are vital to keep out those who cause havoc.
The UKFPU is concerned that a reduction in policing numbers has reduced the number of officers available to ensure that the banning orders are being enforced, with smaller police forces finding it particularly difficult to maintain officer numbers for the task.
Police stressed there was a significant difference between the issue of football hooliganism in general – which is declining – and that of deterring potential ring-leaders. "If we don't keep a lid on it, it would not take a lot for it to become a national embarrassment again," said Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts, commander of Greater Manchester Police's Trafford district, which covers the policing of Manchester United.
"The effectiveness of banning order legislation is the reason why England has one of the best reputations in world football now. It is important to keep enforcing the banning orders otherwise it will become redundant."
Ch Supt Roberts said that UKFPU's concern was that with insufficient officers to maintain the banning order regime against hardcore supporters, the 2016 European Championship in France – to which travel will be cheap and easy – could witness a return of the problems of the 1998 World Cup in that country, which left some England fans a national embarrassment.
Latest in Sport
Sky Sports and BT Sport announce Premier League live matches for 2015/16 with Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in action
Football kits 2015/16: The good, the bad and the downright worst new shirts from around the world for next season
Copa America 2015: When does it start, what channel is it on and who should I support?
Chelsea 2015/16 home shirt leaked again as new picture appears online
Wimbledon 2015: 'Heather Watson deserved to win the match,' concedes world No 1 Serena Williams after gruelling contest
- 1 Michelle Watt's father says TV presenter killed herself because she was in constant pain
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 San Francisco TV news crew attacked by armed robbers during live broadcast
- 4 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
- 5 Miami defendant sobs in court as he realises he and the judge attended the same school
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture