“Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pulled Me Back In”: Football Club Reputations & Judicial Football Banning Orders
27 July 2015
Practice Area: Media and Defamation
Four Chelsea FC fans have received up to five year football Banning orders following a racist incident involving a black commuter on a Paris Metro train. Handing out the bans at Stratford Magistrates Court on Wednesday 22nd July, District Judge Gareth Branston remarked that the individuals had "tarnished the reputation of English football in Europe".
The backlash from the incident for the Football Association and Chelsea FC cannot be underestimated. 30 years from the Heysel disaster and John Barnes dodging bananas, racism and hooliganism in English football has resurfaced from the dark days of the 1980’s football terraces.
For Chelsea FC, such incidents are not good for a Clubs reputation. As Michael Corleone remarked in the Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in”. In recent years Chelsea FC began the process of repairing their reputation following the John Terry /Anton Ferdinand saga and the Patrice Evra grounds man incident. But this recent incident has pulled it back in to a link with racism amongst its fans. In their efforts to meet the challenge of managing their reputation in light of the current incident, Chelsea FC has demonstrated how important brand and reputation management is. The Club immediately disassociated themselves from the conduct of their fans and invited the victim to meet the first team. In addition to this, their response has been commendable describing the behaviour as ‘abhorrent’ and it subsequently issued the fans with the Clubs own lifetime bans.
Football Banning orders in their current form arise from the Football Spectators Act 1989 as amended by the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999 and the Football (Disorder) Act 2000. The legislation was a response to well publicised disorder involving English football fans on the continent that had not only seriously damaged the reputation of English football but had wider negative implications for the reputation of UK people abroad. Following well documented disorder by away fans, Clubs and the FA sought to ban fans from buying tickets for matches abroad. However this presented an unforeseen anomaly as ticketless fans could still travel to away matches abroad (and home) and the realisation that the majority of disorder took place outside the stadiums. In response legislation was drafted to allow a Magistrates Court to ban individuals for up to 10 years from attending matches, using public transport on match days and visiting potential violent "hotspots" if proven to have caused or contributed to football related disorder.
In reference to the Paris Metro incident, “disorder” includes stirring up hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality etc. The Legislation also sought to further tackle the issue of the disorder caused by fans abroad by granting the authorities the power to require persons subject to banning orders to surrender their passports in connection with football matches played outside the United Kingdom. In effect the Banning orders provide some protection to the reputation of Football by preventing future trouble rather than just penalising past behaviour.
It is clear to even the most cynical commentator that the reputation of football has experienced significant improvements from the riots and racist chanting of the 1980’s. It is equally clear that Banning orders have contributed to this positive improvement and have provided the Football Association and the Clubs with the apparatus to impede the corruption of their protected brands and reputations by the bad behaviour of the few.
Football matches: prevention of violence or disorder:(a)for making banning orders which combine the effect of domestic football banning orders and international football banning orders, (b)for a magistrates’ court to be able to make a banning order on a complaint (as well as on conviction of an offence), where the court believes that such an order would help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with certain association football matches, (c)for enforcing authorities to require persons subject to banning orders to surrender their passports in connection with certain association football matches played outside the United Kingdom, (d)for enabling a constable, in certain circumstances, to require a person present before him to appear before a magistrates’ court within 24 hours to answer a complaint for the making of a banning order and, for that purpose, to give certain powers of arrest and detention), is to have effect.
 A magistrates’ court which has power to make an international football banning order ….if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that making the order would help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with designated football matches. . . .it an offence to take part at a designated football match in chanting of an indecent or racialist nature ….engage or take part in chanting of an indecent or racialist nature at a designated football match.