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A balancing act between safety and liberty
HOOLIGANISM is not the problem it was back in the 70s or 80s, but remnants of it remain.
It’s not as if away fans travel the length and breadth of the nation any more with the aim to ‘take the home end’.
No sane person wants to be on the end of a kicking, especially just because you happen to come from Southampton rather than Portsmouth or are red rather than blue.
But at the same time, no-one likes being told what to do.
Football fans are not allowed to drink alcohol during matches, or to be served soft drink bottles with lids on.
We’re not allowed to stand up and we are not allowed to go to whichever pub we desire. Now we’re not allowed to even travel how we want.
I don’t envy Hampshire Constabulary. I wouldn’t want to have to stand in front a few hundred football fans jeering and lobbing coins at each other.
But at the same time, why should the thousands who just go to the game, sing a few songs and go home or to the pub have their freedoms curtailed just to prevent the few from causing trouble?
My personal belief is that a lot of the problems at the last derby match at St Mary’s was due the perpetrators believing they were safe – protected from the police by the crowd and from the opposing fans by the police.
It’s all very well giving it the “big I am” behind a fence and few dozen coppers, but I imagine many would think twice if there was actually a risk of reprisals.
That’s not something any police officer could ever say, but at the same time you can never guarantee you’ll weed out every troublemaker, so you have to depend on enough people policing their own behaviour to a point – that’s kind of how law and order works in a society like ours.
For those who don’t, that’s where the authorities come in.
I understand why the police and the clubs – and let’s not forget, this policy is as much Southampton and Portsmouth football clubs’ as it is Hampshire Constabulary’s – are taking this action.
They want to prevent disorder. Fine, but they have a duty to uphold liberty also.
Football fans in the UK are used to being told what they’re not allowed to do.
We all know the reasons for it and sadly the spectre of hooliganism has not yet been entirely eradicated – but it is not the problem it once was.
But why curtail the freedom of the majority to tackle a fraction?
As Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1775: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
It may sound twee, naive and utopian but a balance has to be found.
As it stands, football fans can’t help but feel we’re all under suspicion all the time, when most of us just want a pint, a laugh – and three points.