Sam Wallace: The Chris Kirkland attack was horrific – but let's keep some perspective

Talking Football: There were 3,089 arrests out of an attendance of 37m. That's 0.01 per cent

When he reflects on his attack on Chris Kirkland at Hillsborough on Friday, the Leeds United fan in question might wonder why he picked the night the Sky Sports HD cameras were in town – capable of reading the "LUFC" tattoo on his neck, never mind capturing his grinning face.

Violent, cowardly and thuggish? Undoubtedly, but not exactly the Professor Moriarty of football-related crime, is he? And as for his fellow pitch invaders, one of them – you will have to refer back to the video clip for this one – appears to be, for reasons best known to himself, fighting with the goal net.

Kirkland, thankfully, was not seriously injured. As for his alleged assailant, widely named in newspapers and on social media there is a good chance he will be given a custodial sentence. His banning order from football grounds will be so long there is even a chance Leeds might be back in the Premier League by the time he is permitted legally to watch them in person.

Whoever is found guilty of assault, encroachment on the pitch, encouraging others to follow him – and the distinct possibility that he may have breached an existing banning order – it will be a long rap sheet. Gloucestershire police made an arrest yesterday.

It was appalling to watch and the culprit deserves to be punished. But what about the wisdom of the wider clamour for a crackdown and for the police and the courts to get tough with football fans?

The problem with an incident as regrettable as the one at Hillsborough is that it often provokes a sharp lurch to the right, when it comes to attitudes towards football's so-called "problem" and demands more of police and courts. Yet the legislation introduced around a decade ago to deter football disorder is already draconian and civil liberties groups have asked serious questions about the measures' ethical basis.

The football banning order (FBO) remains the cornerstone of football policing and the Football (Disorder) Act of 2000 means that a fan does not necessarily need to have a criminal conviction in order to be served one. The police can apply to a court for an FBO on the basis that they have evidence that the individual is considered likely to cause disorder around a match.

There are around 3,000 FBOs currently in place, of which 500 are "on complaint", or for those who have not been convicted of an offence. FBOs typically include a ban from an exclusion zone around an individual's home ground, a ban from all grounds in the country and the requirement to surrender one's passport while England are playing abroad. FBOs last a minimum of three years.

The concern among fans' groups, including the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF), is that police are applying for banning orders on relatively low-level public order offences. While discretion is used by the police, that might include swearing at a ground. Or gesturing at opposing fans. Entering a ground drunk can trigger an arrest, and potentially an FBO. And before the clubs grab the moral high ground, it should be pointed out that they all serve alcohol.

In general, there is little sympathy for football supporters or a desire to hear about what they regard as maltreatment. One only needs to witness the struggle of the families of victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster for justice to recognise that and Friday's incident at the same ground will not help.

Four years ago, more than 80 Stoke City fans were rounded up by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) under Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act– designed to break up drunken groups – and transported back home without watching their team play at Old Trafford. They were held for four hours, placed on coaches with no toilets and told by police that they had to urinate in paper cups. They sued GMP with the help of FSF.

The most recent Home Office statistics for football-related disorder, for the 2010-2011 season, reported a total of 3,089 arrests out of an estimated total attendance of 37m. That is, as the Home Office itself points out, less than 0.01 per cent of all supporters or one arrest for every 12,249 tickets sold. It was 9 per cent down on the 2009-2010 season.

Yet even now, the authorities continue to video innocent supporters watching games, a practice that understandably upsets many supporters. Police are likely to take your name if you are ejected for persistent standing or having a ticket in the wrong section of a ground, even though these are not criminal offences.

There has also been the introduction of "bubble matches", the term used to describe the style of policing for games identified as being at high-risk of disorder. Away supporters are given no alternative but to collect their tickets at a designated location and be bussed in and out en masse under police supervision, as will be the case for the Burnley v Blackburn Rovers, the east Lancashire derby, next month.

It should be noted that some supporters prefer the peace of mind that "bubble match" policing – implemented, for example, for the South Coast derby last year – gives them. Others regard it as another liberty removed from the well-behaved, blameless football supporter.

Policing itself can make a huge difference. Last month, Manchester City supporters following their team in Madrid for the Champions League game at the Bernabeu reported unprovoked baton charges from Spanish police. Michael Slater, the Charlton Athletic chairman and a City fan, was knocked unconscious in the attack.

The leading academic research on football disorder has found conclusively that the style of policing is fundamental to the behaviour of large groups of fans. Dr Geoff Pearson's analysis of Portugal's two separate forces policing Euro 2004 in very different ways – and getting very different results – demonstrates the benefit of a low-key approach that does not legitimise a violent reaction in the minds of the crowd.

Unfortunately, the benefits of that research, as well as the questions that have been raised about the use of some of the legislation against supporters, are ignored when something as shocking as Friday night's incident occurs. It would be wrong to say that fans have not attacked players before – sadly, they have – but the statistics tell us that it is very rare.

What is not in doubt is that the punishment for Kirkland's assailant will be more severe for him having committed the offence on a football pitch than had he done so on the street. Dave Jones, the Sheffield Wednesday manager, called on fans to "police" themselves but, given how quickly Kirkland's attacker's identity was circulated, that appears to be exactly what happened.

For the vast majority of Leeds fans, and the wider football supporter fraternity, appalled by the actions of one of their number, attending games is something they do lawfully. Keeping the balance between maintaining the peace and people's rights is not easy, and there really is no call for the lines to be blurred any further.

It would help if Rio made his stance clear

Leaving aside the conflicting positions of Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson on the Kick It Out T-shirt, a simple question: what exactly are Ferdinand's views on the John Terry saga?

So far we have had a series of tweets loaded with double meaning and a refusal to wear a T-shirt. Understandably, Ferdinand appears to be upset about certain things but it would help if he was specific. The treatment of his brother Anton? The verdict of Westminster magistrates' court? The regulatory commission's four-game ban for Terry? The Kick It Out campaign? His own fine for the "choc ice" tweet? All the above and more?

In the year that has passed there has been a criminal case, lasting one week, and a detailed 63-page commission report into the incident, even before you get into all the extraneous factors. Now the process is at an end it would be useful if Rio would say, with clarity, what he feels was wrong. The second-guessing does not help anyone.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz