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A guide to sports banning orders

When it comes to sport, the UK has a very proud history. It is the birthplace of many modern sports loved by millions of people across the globe, including football, cricket, rugby, golf, basketball, hockey, volleyball, rounders, badminton, tennis, snooker and darts. That said the most popular sport in the UK does have a dark side.

The “English Disease”

Football has a long-standing history of hooliganism and violence at matches. Of course, it’s generally very safe to attend any kind of sporting event in the UK, and the majority of British football fans are very well behaved. But because of instances where violent and disorderly behaviour has taken place, British football fans can be targeted by other groups, and are therefore identified to the police as being high risk, both at home and abroad.

During the 1960s the United Kingdom gained a reputation worldwide for football hooliganism and the phenomenon was often called the “English Disease”, whilst organised hooligan firms started to emerge in the 1970s. Hooliganism became strongly associated with English football supporters in the 1980s following a series of major disturbances at home and abroad, which resulted in numerous deaths. During the late ‘80s and ‘90s the UK government has led a wide scale crackdown on football related violence. Sociologist Anthony King, author of The End of the Terraces, famously stated that “between 1990 and 1994 football went through a social revolution” where it become socially acceptable to attend football matches once more. This was largely due to the introduction of the Premier League and the new consumption of football, whilst the Football Spectators’ Act 1989 was also majorly important in changing the face of football. There are also arguments to be made that CCTV, improved stewarding and policing also contributed to a decline in hooliganism.

Football Spectators’ Act 1989 and Football (Disorder) Act 2000

The act was introduced during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and it was designed to identify individuals known to cause disorder at and around football matches, whether in the UK itself or abroad. The Football (Disorder) Act 2000 then strengthened the power of football banning orders (FBOs). A magistrate can now ban an individual from attending football matches (whether either domestic or foreign) for a period of 2-10 years and can also impose additional restrictions too.

It was enforced in France at Euro 2000, allowing police to arrest fans suspected of travelling to tournaments purely to commit acts of violence or terrorism at international games. The Football (Disorder) Act 2000 was introduced as a preventative measure, rather than simply a method of punishing offences at football matches. The act increased the number of football banning orders issued to fans.

What is a football banning order (FBO)?

An FBO is a civil order that may be issued by the UK courts or by the police. They are to prevent hooliganism, violence and other forms of disorder at football matches in the UK and overseas. They can be issued for numerous offences, including:

  • Violent disorder
  • Public disorder
  • Throwing missiles
  • Racist chanting
  • Pitch invasions
  • Alcohol offences
  • Ticket touting
  • Possession of a bladed article or offensive weapon
  • Possession of pyrotechnics such as flares
  • Offences against property

Though there have been many cases where bans have made headlines at major tournaments, they can be issued to spectators of football matches at all levels, including youth games and local lower league matches.

The consequences of football related offences

The majority of football related offences are heard in the magistrates’ court, but in situations where cases are deemed to be very severe, they will be heard in the crown court. The consequences can be very stern and if found guilty of the crime, the offender may receive a prison sentence, whilst the minimum term for a football banning order is 6 years. Under the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, courts also have the power to request a person’s passport is surrendered to authorities up to 5 days prior to an international fixture in order to prevent them from travelling to matches abroad. This can then restrict a potential offender from going on holiday or travelling for work purposes without explicit permission. Failure to comply can result in a maximum of a 6-month prison sentence and a maximum fine of £5,000. You can also be banned from using public transport on match days, and from going to other public places, like town and city centres, railway stations, pubs and bars.

Can an FBO be terminated?

Yes, it’s possible to make an application to the court to terminate a Football Banning Order early. Section 14H of the Football Spectators Act 1989 allows such application to be made after two thirds of the order has had effect. The court will consider various factors in deciding whether to terminate a banning order, such as:

  • The person’s character
  • Their conduct since the banning order was made
  • The nature of the offence or conduct that led to it
  • Any other circumstances which appear to be relevant to the court

Does hooliganism still exist?

Unfortunately the answer is yes, but we have seen a drastic change in attitude towards hooliganism in society. The Home Office released data for the 2017/18 league season and it revealed 1,822 banning orders were active, and this is down 6 percent from the previous campaign. We can also look further back and see that over the past seven years there has been a banning order decrease of 43 percent. Football Banning Orders originated almost 30 years ago under the Football Spectators Act 1989, but they are still being issued today. So whilst fewer FBOs are being issued today, it could be some time before hooliganism is extinct.

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