Hooliganism once again raises its ugly head in English football

In the same week that racism in football was once again highlighted on the international stage another problem from what we all thought was a bygone era in football came again to the fore of the English game. A few weeks ago I wrote a post that touched on Football Banning Orders and their consequences to fans that invade the field of play. Little did I know that they would appear in the news so quickly after that post in the form of a certain Leeds fan assaulting Sheffield Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland at a match on Friday 19th October.

Kirkland required treatment after he was struck in the face during the Yorkshire derby against Leeds United, which ended in a 1-1 draw. It was reported on Sunday night that a 21-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of assault. A Gloucestershire Police spokesman said that the man was arrested in Cheltenham shortly before 1pm: “The investigation is being led by South Yorkshire Police. The man currently remains in police custody.”

As a recap to my previous post Football Banning Orders are a preventative measure designed to stop potential troublemakers from travelling to football matches both at home and abroad. Of the millions of fans who annually attend football games, only a very small minority actually cause problems. But those that do are a threat to public safety and to the reputation of English football overseas, so the prosecuting authorities are committed to stopping this behaviour.

Banning Orders are issued by the courts following a conviction of a football-related offence, or after a complaint by the Crown Prosecution Service or a local police force. For an order to be issued, it must be proved that the accused person has caused or contributed to football-related violence or disorder and that an order will prevent them from misbehaving further.

They can last between three and ten years and can be customised to address individual behaviour patterns such as restricting travel on match days. Breach of an order is a criminal offence and is punishable by a maximum sentence of six months in prison.

The Leeds fan was supposedly identified on social media sites, with many hundreds of fans joining in the condemnation of his actions. A mobile phone number purporting to be his was even posted on Twitter. Now I am not going to post the name of the individual in this blog as the Police have not confirmed his name as of yet. Nor have any of the major media outlets, with the exception of The Daily Mail, (and let us be honest they are not really the sort of news organisation to aspire to) gone as far as to name him. Neither will I praise those that tweeted his personal details for all to see regardless of how abhorrent his actions may have been.

The Home Office believe that Banning Orders are an extremely successful tool in combating football hooliganism. The vast majority of people who commit football disorder are genuine and passionate football supporters. The orders work because they stop fans from doing the thing they love most – attending a football match. By the time their order expires, their behaviour has usually transformed. In 92 per cent of cases, the person is felt by the police to no longer pose a risk.

However, if the individual named on social media is the same person who attacked Chris Kirkland then he is one of the 8 per cent that have failed to have been rehabilitated by the imposition of a Football Banning Order. He had been banned from every football ground in the country when he was 16 after he was caught at the centre of 200-strong riot at Leeds’ Elland Road ground. In September 2011 this individual was found guilty of breaching his Football Banning Order for the third time when he was found to be in possession of an away ticket for Coventry City vs. Leeds United and a train ticket to Coventry. Magistrates extended the Banning Order for a further two years until the end of 2013.

In a statement afterwards he said, “I AM not a hooligan, I just want to go back to watching Leeds play.”

All this information is readily and easily available on the Internet which is why I repeat it here, albeit without revealing his name, and in researching this piece I noticed many of the major broadsheet and tabloid papers have removed articles from their websites with the individual’s name, even though the URL still remains in a Google search.

I still, however, happen to be a strong believer in due process for criminal matters and I do not believe it would be right to prejudice any jury that might appear in this case by naming him herein (although I would find it hard to imagine this matter would actually result in anything more than a guilty plea by the accused taking into account the video evidence available to the prosecution). Saying that it would be hard to envisage an outcome whereby this individual would not receive a lifetime ban and a possible prison sentence of up to 6 months for breach of the Banning Order to run in conjunction with any punishment for an as yet “unproven” but more serious assault charge.

I would certainly like to ask him though whether this moment of infamy was really worth all the consequences he may face in the weeks, months, and possible years to come. Sadly I fear that anyone who would be tempted to commit such an offence, even in the heat of the moment, is unlikely to have any reasonable, rational, or objective and coherent thoughts as to how this whole sorry situation occurred.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice. Any person who has been or has yet to be charged with a criminal offence shall remain innocent until proven guilty.

Post Update 22/10/2012: Aaron Cawley, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, today pleaded guilty to assault and entering the field at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court in relation to the above matter. He has been jailed for 16 weeks.