Amanda Jacks is the caseworker for the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), the national organisation that represents English and Welsh fans. Last week, we spoke to Amanda about security and policing at football matches.
FSE: Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
AJ: I work with police forces around the country to improve matchday policing. I’m also interested in working on alternatives to the criminal justice system for fans who are first time offenders, including intervention for young fans to keep them out of that system. And last but not least, I help supporters who find themselves, for whatever reason, in trouble, or have cause to complain about policing and/or stewarding.
FSE: In your experience, what is the most common issue English and Welsh supporters face when it comes to policing and stewarding?
AJ: If you’d have asked me that question five or six years ago, I’d have given you a very different answer. Football policing in England and Wales is vastly different to what it was, or what the common perception is. More and more police forces are working towards a community policing style as opposed to a public order policing style. Whereas before we’d get lots of complaints about overzealous policing—fans being held in pubs, being forcibly route marched to stadia, use of dispersal orders, aggressive tactics, and so on—now we tend to see more complaints around matchday stewarding.
FSE: Stewarding is emerging as more of an issue than policing, then?
AJ: Yes, definitely.
First of all, though, it’s important to stress that most stewards are good at their job. More to the point, it’s not a particularly attractive profession, they’re not particularly well paid, and let’s face it, sometimes supporters can be tricky to deal with.
I think the main problems we see with stewarding are poor customer service skills and poor handling of incidents that have the potential to escalate. I also think a lot of clubs tend to forget that stewards are essentially their front of house staff, which is odd, especially when so many of them are brand conscious. I think a lot of clubs don’t necessarily see football fans as paying customers who should expect a certain level of service.
This trend is particularly true for away fans. The tendency is to treat them not as hard-working people who’ve paid a lot of money for their tickets and travelled a long way, but as potential public order problems.
FSE: What can clubs and other relevant bodies do to improve stewarding?
AJ: Because clubs are used to having police inside their stadia, they’ve taken their eye off the ball when it comes to training and retention of good stewards, and now we’re seeing the consequences.
There is a dearth of stewards country-wide, particularly in larger cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, and London. There are several other large-scale events taking place but only a limited pool of stewards to draw on.
If I had a magic wand, I would be looking at every club directly employing a certain number of stewards to cover a certain number of supporters. I would also make sure that every part of the ground has the same stewards deployed on a regular basis so they can build a relationship with supporters. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests the development of mutual respect and understanding between stewards and supporters relies on the presence of familiar faces. The same goes for self-policing amongst crowds.
When clubs bring in stewards from outside contractors, it’s just another job—one that is likely to be on the lower end of the pay scale. Those stewards are not likely to put much stock on being club ambassadors or looking after the people they’re supposed to be responsible for.
Obviously, there’s going to be a reliance on contractors to some extent, but the key is to deploy those contractors in areas of less importance and have those directly employed by the club in more prominent areas.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit several clubs as a guest and the standard of service has been incredible. You’re treated like you’re valued. I’ve been back to the same clubs as a supporter and the contrast couldn’t have been more stark. I would perhaps, then, encourage further liaison between the corporate staff and the safety team so they can learn from one another.
FSE: Do stewards and safety teams have to meet any minimum standards before being deployed?
AJ: Stewards must have an NVQ, but what’s not necessarily known, is that they can complete the qualification while on the job. They will be under the watchful eye of another steward who has an NVQ, but it’s a bit of a grey area because the turnover is so high that clubs might employ a lot of stewards who are yet to complete their training.
With regards to ideal minimum standards, I think good customer facing skills are a must, as are de-escalation skills. I think good knowledge of football culture is also important because there are certain behaviours that you or I might recognise as typical, harmless fan behaviour, while someone without that knowledge might take a different view and act accordingly. Stewards should also have a basic understanding of crowd behaviour so they can predict what kind of behaviour is likely to lead to problems and what isn’t.
At this point I should probably point out that, ironically, it isn’t the clubs, the stewards, or the police who are my biggest challenge; it’s the supporters themselves, who have what I call an ‘expect and accept’ mentality.
By that I mean they expect to be treated poorly, and when they are, they accept it. For reasons I understand—at least to a point—some supporters don’t want to make a complaint against the club they support, which can be very frustrating.
I mean, we all do it. We might go out for a meal on a Friday night and come home furious due to the poor service or poor quality of the food. And then, come Monday morning, we’ve had time to calm down and we think ‘Oh, what’s the point of complaining?’ Social media gives fans an outlet that they didn’t have before, as well. I’ll often log on to Twitter or Facebook or forums, see people complaining about negative experiences, and let them know who I am and how I can help them, but most of them won’t bother following through.
FSE: I think it’s fair to say that you’re an expert, or even the expert, on policing and stewarding in England and Wales. What’s been your experience as an observer during European matches? Are there any commonalities or differences?
AJ: I’ve only had experience of English fans abroad and I know what everybody else knows about how they can be treated.
I was in Basel in 2016 for the Europa League final. All the Liverpool fans congregated in the main square and they were treated very well. There was a massive stage and a DJ, a very light police presence; it was an amazing experience. I didn’t end up going to the match, but I heard a lot of real horror stories about the crowd management both inside and outside the stadium.
I was also in Stockholm for the 2017 Europa League final between Manchester United and Ajax. That took place just a couple of days after the Manchester Arena bombing and I think that definitely had an impact on the mood. Again, we were with the Stockholm police, who were very hands off, allowing fans to congregate. I went to the game this time and the policing and stewarding in the stadium was very good. It was friendly and welcoming and there were no problems at all.
Fast forward to this year in Madrid for the Champions League final, where I, along with representatives from FSE, was embedded with the police. They deployed fan information teams and were keen to get things right. We were with senior cops and they were telling us that they wanted good headlines, didn’t want English fans going home saying that the Spanish police mistreated them, that sort of thing. They acknowledged that supporters from many countries have had bad experiences in Spain and suggested that they wanted to make amends.
In the city, on the day of the match, I think a lot of fans would agree that the policing was, on the whole, pretty good, hands off, low-key.
Outside the stadium, both before and after the game, was a different kettle of fish altogether. We were back to the horror stories we’ve all heard from Barcelona and Madrid. The police were in their riot gear, very aggressive, unfriendly. We heard incidences of tickets being arbitrarily confiscated on the grounds that they were fake when they clearly weren’t. We heard that fans who challenged the police were struck with batons. It was really bad.
I find it absolutely astounding that this can happen at a global entertainment event such as the Champions League final. If they run out of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon the BBC would lead on it. Yet when it comes to how football supporters are treated at these mega events, they’re not interested—it’s just accepted. What makes it even worse is that there’s no redress for those individuals who experience all of the above.
FSE are working hard to address these issues, especially with the Away Fans Survey and other similar initiatives. That said, the current situation is unacceptable. I honestly don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say that it’s only a matter of time before we see a supporter experiencing life changing injuries at the hands of the police or coming home in a coffin.
UEFA have to act on the points being raised by FSE on behalf of supporters.
FSE: I suppose we’ve so far focused on some of the more negative aspects of your job—what would you say has been your biggest achievement over the past few years?
AJ: The FSA successfully recently challenged several police forces on their unlawful use of dispersal powers. As a result of those legal challenges, the police are now prohibited from using dispersal powers on a group—they have to make an individual assessment on every single supporter to determine whether or not they genuinely pose a problem and need to be dispersed.
We’ve also helped build relationships between supporters’ groups and police forces. We’ve now got independent advisory groups in the London, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Liverpool, and Greater Manchester. The police are far more willing to work with us now and these meetings aren’t tick box affairs—they’re meaningful and effective.
West Midlands Police operate something called the Onside Project, which came about after they met with Anwar Uddin and I a few years ago. Our argument in that meeting was that police forces have a tendency to criminalise children, resorting to arrest and banning orders immediately, rather than exploring other ways to deal with problematic young supporters. Based on our advice, they set up the project, which works with young fans who have either been through the criminal justice system or may end up in it. They run sessions over 6 weeks, looking at disruptive behaviour, the impact of that behaviour on others, the consequences of criminal records, football banning orders, prison sentences, and so on. They’ve had around 100 youngsters go through this process and only 7 of them have gone on to offend or re-offend. Not that long ago, a good portion of those kids would have ended up with a criminal record and a football banning order, so it represents a really positive development.
It would be really arrogant of me to take credit for how the police are changing their approach to football supporters, but I think I can take a certain amount of credit, which I’m quite proud of, actually!
FSE: Who should English and Welsh fans contact if they have any problems with the police or stewards?