IT IS GOOD to see that practical steps are being taken in the war against football hooliganism. For too long the authorities restricted themselves to verbal condemnation of violence at football matches, but they have finally realised that without tough, concerted action against the hooligans, stadiums would not become any safer.
The police appear to have done their home-work for the new season which kicked off at the weekend. A manual has been circulated among officers giving detailed instructions about how high-risk matches will be policed – police will decide, in consultation with the Football Federation, how many tickets will be issued, how many visiting fans will be allowed to attend, kick-off times and so forth.
Detailed instructions are included. For instance, people without tickets will not be able to approach the ground; police will have the right to prevent anyone suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs from entering the ground. Police will discourage fans from going to away matches on club coaches, but if the advice is ignored the fans on the buses will be searched by officers.
Special powers will be given to the Police Operations chief in charge of a high-risk match. He will be able to issue an order prohibiting known trouble-makers from entering the ground, even though it is difficult to know how stewards and policemen can enforce such an order without an ID system in place. Perhaps, the police know that they will not be able to stop all trouble-makers, but it is important that the authority, barring hooligans from entering the ground, exists.
Some of the powers given to the police are excessive. For instance, when objects are thrown on to the ground, the officer in charge will be entitled to stop the match and issue a warning to fans; if the object throwing continues after a second warning the officer can inform the referee that security has been compromised and the latter might have to stop the match. This might seem a bit too drastic and could cause a riot rather than quell the trouble.
But the police drive should be given a chance. Eventually, the police will come to know which measures are effective and which not. What is important for now is that measures are enforced. Even more important is the drive to ensure speedy trials for the troublemakers as the long delays in bringing them before justice meant that they could carry on going to matches for years, before they are convicted and banned.
We should also congratulate the GSP stadium authorities for hiring a professionally-trained team of stewards, who will be used for all matches played at the ground. It is a commendable move as stewards, with experience in managing crowds, could be of great assistance to the police. All that remains now is for the clubs to support the police’s drive instead of protecting their fans when they misbehave.
If the clubs are on side as well, we may at long last, see the hooligans being brought under control.
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