Matthew Hall presents “Thatcher’s Legacy on the Narrative Surrounding Fans of Football” at the Football Collective Conference

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On Friday 30th November 2018, Matthew Hall (UWE Bristol, Law), along with Ashley Jane Lowerson (University of Sunderland, Law) presented their paper at the Football Collective Conference at Hampden Park, Glasgow. This is an event attended by many scholars from across all disciplines from around the world. Also attending were current and ex-professional footballers and members of the Football Association.

Titled, ‘Thatcher’s Legacy on the Narrative Surrounding Fans of Football’, Matt and Ashley introduced by discussing Mrs Thatcher’s early days as PM and the ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric that she often espoused. It was discussed how some scholars have argued through a punitiveness lens that Mrs Thatcher’s legislative programme was anything but tough. The prison population remained around the 45,000 mark during her time as PM and only under Major and Blair did a sharp increase occur (and now is around the 80,000 mark). Thatcher’s legislation merely created an ‘illusion’ of toughness and ‘laid the foundations’ for a more punitive approach some years later.

Matt and Ashley then discussed how measuring the ‘toughness’ of law through a punitive lens was a narrow approach and legislation can influence in other ways. Attention turned to football fans and some of the legislation that was created with fans of football in mind, particularly since the events of Heysel in 1985. Ashley discussed the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985, Public Order Act 1986 and the Football Spectators Act 1989 and how collectively, these have arguably created a stigma that has become attached to all fans. In particular, when taking in to account the wide nature of some of the legislation in that numerous restrictions apply to all fans and not just those who seek to cause disorder.

Matt then went on to discuss Goffman’s theory of stigma and Frost’s conceptual framework. Structural inequalities were discussed and how the law can be constructed in ways that reflect negative meanings to certain groups in society; how stereotypes and prejudice can result from structural inequalities; and finally, discrimination in that these groups then become treated differently in society because of their stigmatised status. Discussed on this point was the nature of how the police often favour the tougher ‘command and control’ approach when policing football matches as opposed to other large gatherings such as political protests, where a more ‘facilitative’ role is adopted with the use of Police Liaison Teams to create a ‘friendlier atmosphere.’ Also, how public houses quite often refuse admission to fans of football on match days for no other reason other than they are football fans and in early 2018, Chorley councillor Danny Gee attempting to ban all fans of football from entering Chorley Centre on Saturday afternoons.

Matt and Ashley then discussed how stigma can be legitimised by law, and in terms of football fans, this is arguably the case. Mrs Thatcher may not have been regarded as ‘tough’ by some scholars with her legislative programme, but fans of football would disagree. 1985, under Mrs Thatcher PM, saw the first football-specific legislation introduced and arguably, this is one of Thatcher’s legacies surrounding the narrative of football fans in the current day.

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