The father of a 15-year-old girl who was injured in a Carabao Cup match says the behavior of fans on the football pitch is getting worse.
His daughter was scarred for life when she was hit in the head with a pint glass full of coins during Manchester City’s Carabao Cup tie with Liverpool last month.
“It’s absolutely feverish,” he said, adding that going to big away games can feel like “running the gauntlet”.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, head of Britain’s Football Policing Unit, said on Thursday there was a “worrying level of disorder” at football matches after a report showed 999 arrests were made between July 1 and December 31, 2022, a 10% increase from the same period last year.
But Michael Brunskill, of the Football Supporters’ Association, said it was important to put the incidents in context and that he would not like to portray football as the “wild west”.
There was 2,198 football-related arrests in 2021-22 seasonthe highest number since the 2013-14 season, according to Home Office figures.
A law introduced in 2022 meant fans would receive an automatic ban from the club for invading the pitch after concerns were raised about safety on the pitch following a number of incidents at the end of the season last.
BBC Sport hears from a selection of fans about their experiences of going to football matches.
“It’s absolutely feverish”
Daniel, a Manchester City fan who attends matches with his family, said the atmosphere at matches was becoming increasingly hostile, after seeing his daughter hit in the head with a weighted beer glass during a game last month.
“I’ve been going to football games for 30 years and I’ve never experienced a football environment like the one we have right now,” he said.
“I was at the Euro finals in 2021 and my son-in-law was hit in the head by an empty beer can walking up Wembley Way. It’s feverish and it’s different, and whoever says that also doesn’t go to a lot of football or get close enough to the game to understand the change.
“It would be too broad to say that it got worse everywhere but the big games, it’s absolutely feverish.
“We are going to the Manchester derby but we will be away and I know it will be like running the gauntlet.
“In big games it’s always been like that, but it reminds me of what I remember from the early 1990s.
“I remember being in a cage at Cambridge at home guarding us and there was a feeling that football fans were a different breed – but I felt it had become a family game, a more family sport. .
“Now I feel like it’s gotten worse. Big games are even more tense.”
However, he says his daughter has not been put off going to matches following the incident at the Etihad Stadium, for which both clubs have apologized but the person responsible has yet to be identified.
“Both clubs after the event were brilliant, in terms of management and seriousness, with the police and the two groups of fans.
“We are still trying to identify the person who did it, but she [his daughter] looks good physically, she hasn’t returned to the ground yet but she is desperate to come back and she has watched every game since on TV.”
“Aggression seems to be increasing”
Emily, a Port Vale fan who travels home and away with her 14-year-old son to watch their team, said: “Overall we had a pretty good experience at Vale Park but not at the outside.
“For example, in Sheffield on Wednesday at Christmas, we parked low to the ground and wore our football colours. We walked away from the car and a bunch of Sheffield fans grabbed the car. It was unnecessary and really difficult .
“On the pitch we haven’t really seen a lot of problems but my 12 year old daughter refuses to come to football because of the aggression she saw when Port Vale played Manchester City in 2020. The supporters outside were so aggressive towards Vale fans – men literally foaming at the mouth, not even watching the game, turning around and shouting abuse and swearing.
“That kind of experience can really put kids off a football game.
“There are clubs with this particular reputation and you just think ‘I’m not going to take the kids there’. We think carefully about the games we go to. I worry less inside the stadium; I m worry much more on the outside.
“The other thing that’s a new dimension is the online world – social media fuels a lot of pre-game aggression and violence between fans. You can see it flooded out on Twitter and other social media platforms.
“Meetings planned for violence are happening, with a lot of aggression towards the fans and that’s one of the things that fuels the rise in aggression off the pitch.
“It’s part of the game, it’s a minority but the social media aspect is something we can’t not talk about in the modern game.”
“The atmosphere is more positive at home”
Sebastian, a Barnsley fan, attends games with his father and younger brother and said he felt “safer” at home games.
“You notice the general atmosphere is more positive at home – the environment is more family friendly,” he said.
“Away games are a little more tense, sometimes a little intimidating. You want to create an atmosphere but sometimes the line is crossed.
“I tend to wear my colors – but when it comes to derby games or local rivals I wear my shirt but then a jacket to maybe cover it up, to avoid any altercations off the pitch.”
“It’s a social problem”
Faye, London: It’s 50-50 – some of the men are drunk and very aggressive and intimidating. Pushing and shoving is an intense environment. We don’t go to away games, just at home. The away games are quite intimidating, it’s a tight-knit group with people fighting.
Phil, Sheffield: The away fans receive a very bad threat. I travel to 90% of Sheffield United away games and you see it everywhere. I was on a coach going to Port Vale which was being painted by Vale fans, so it happens everywhere. It is a social problem. They are younger guys in society who are looking for more than what they get from their football team.
Clare, Oxford: I’m lucky that I didn’t see anything particularly bad but I like it – I like the singing, the jokes and the atmosphere. I don’t tolerate violence, but I have a 16 year old daughter who does everything she can and loves it. Isn’t that part of going to a football game?
Devon, London: In an Arsenal and Spurs Under-16 game, the abuse was disgusting and no one was doing anything about it. It was very bad, the language. People say it’s passion – it’s not, it’s madness.
Terry, London: I’ve been going there since 1979, at home and elsewhere. I’ve met a lot of nice away fans, but I’ve also sat close to some away fans who I think, “I’m glad I’m not sitting next to them at home”. Sometimes it’s like a battlefield. It’s not just about going to the game, it’s about getting home and getting away from the surroundings safely – it’s not pleasant. A lot of people are pushing each other and not watching the game.
Mark, Tottenham: In the Premier League, it’s very sanitized. But I went to a Bristol Rovers game and there was a bunch of lads in their early twenties pushing the fans away and I had to say something to them at the end. I think there’s an element of young people watching old rogue movies like Green Street and The Firm, and it’s like they want it to be 1985 and run with the casuals. Maybe they feel like they missed it and what they see on TV is a bit of a fantasy. But in general, it’s much better than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
Football is a safe environment – group of fans
FSA’s Brunskill acknowledged that a small amount of fan behavior was unacceptable, but was keen to ensure football fans were not put off by the actions of a minority of disruptive supporters.
“I wouldn’t like to portray football as a Wild West where normal people can’t go – it’s a safe environment, hundreds of thousands of people go there every week and have a great time,” he said. declared.
“Yes, there is a weird issue, but I think a lot of it is about educating people, especially young fans.
“For example, the use of pyrotechnics seems to have been normalized – people use it at Glastonbury and it’s also illegal there and shouldn’t happen but it’s celebrated. But in a footballing context it’s gets punished and people went to jail for it.
“Pitch invasions and pyrotechnics are illegal and we really need to discourage this behavior – the consequences can be serious.
“It’s about passion without poison and certainly without violence, and it happens in most games. We need to educate about what is and isn’t allowed – not just portraying unpleasant incidents as the norm.”