Ben Sledge 15th June 2018
Across the world, football devotees and pundits have been worried about Russian fans ahead of the World Cup this year, mostly after incidents in Marseille two years ago, when they attacked English fans in the streets.
A history of fines and stadium bans for fans of Russian domestic teams due to racist chanting has peppered the Champion’s League over recent seasons.
But are English fans any better? We know hooliganism was rife in the English game in the ’80s but these days the perception is that it has mostly died out. We analysed government statistics for police arrests at football matches in the past few seasons in English football to find out.
The most common offences last season were public disorder (31% of arrests), violent disorder (21% of arrests), and alcohol offences (16% of arrests), showing English fans live up to the stereotypes of being rowdy, boisterous, drunk, and sometimes violent. Our own fans have been warned about exhibiting this behaviour at the tournament in Moscow, as some Russian fans may be looking for conflict.
Supporters of northern teams are 61.5% more likely to be arrested for racist chanting than southern teams
It is worth noting that the data suggests that the top three flights of English football are the most prone to racist chants, however the bigger matches will draw bigger crowds, more trouble, and a higher police presence, meaning that racism could easily slip under the radar or go unnoticed at smaller games.
The data also suggests supporters of northern teams have a larger racism problem. Northern fans were 61.5% more likely to be arrested for racist chanting than fans of southern teams, with fans of teams in the midlands being the least likely. Sunderland and Port Vale have the worst record for racist and indecent chanting, each having had seven fans arrested for the crime in the past three years.
The number of arrests due to racist chanting in England has decreased considerably, falling by two thirds over this time. This trend appears across all arrests at football games, with the total number of arrests halving in that time, meaning that some incidents may be being missed, or budget cuts are forcing police forces to reduce the number of officers at matches.
Kick It Out’s reporting statistics for the 2016/17 season clearly indicate discrimination is still prevalent within the beautiful game
However, crimes reported to Kick It Out, an English charity tackling racism in football, are increasing. It received 469 reports of indecent chanting in the 2016/17 season, 48% of which related to race. This was a 16.7% increase from the season before. During the same period, only seven arrests were made by the police in the top five leagues of English football.
It is worth noting that nearly half of these reports were reporting social media disgressions, while the other 206 reports were made at professional football matches, showing police forces are missing the vast majority of incidents, or aren’t arresting the perpetrators. And while only 1% of incidents were reported at international matches, this is clearly a problem domestically as well as on the road for English fans.
Roisin Wood, chief executive at Kick It Out, says the statistics clearly show discrimination is still prevalent within the beautiful game and calls the stats “a timely reminder that there is still significant work to be done to ensure all participants can feel safe and included in the sport”.
She says: “Whilst the statistics show a large proportion of reporting taking place within the professional game, Kick It Out is aware of the vast scale of under-reporting within the grassroots game. This is one of a number of challenges the football authorities must tackle going forward.
“Kick It Out actively encourages all those involved across the game to report any discrimination they witness or suffer.”
Players like England Under-17 World Cup-winning forward Rhian Brewster have also recently criticised footballing bodies FIFA and UEFA for not doing anything to tackle the racism problems within football.
And while these statistics obviously show that racist chants are only shouted by a minority of fans, critics would argue the same could be said about Russia.
It seems that English football has a problem with racism at every level, so maybe we should have a look at ourselves before taking aim at the Russian fans for doing the same?
Ben Sledge 15th June 2018