Weekends when international matches take centre stage tend to be slow ones on the sports desks of our national newspapers. With no football matches being played in the Premier League or the Football League Championship, there are slim picking for those who want their weekend editions to be covered with the national game and, as such, it is perhaps unsurprising that an outbreak of crowd trouble, even if it does come to pass at a non-league which otherwise would have been of no great consequence. The indicents occurred at the FA Cup Third Qualifying Round match yesterday afternoon between Atherstone Town and Barrow AFC, and involved around thirty or so Atherstone “supporters” – a phrase which we use advisedly when we consider what the cost of their behaviour is likely to be to the club – got onto the pitch, attacked Barrow supporters and lit flares.
It was a dismal afternoon for Atherstone Town, who normally play their trade in the Midland Football Combination – four divisions below Conference North club Barrow – and for whom getting this far in the competition had already been something of an achievement in itself. By the time of the incident, which came about at half-time, the home side was already losing by four goals to nil, which turned out to be the final score of the match as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chairman of the Atherstone Town has already apologised unreservedly for what happened, but it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that this particular exercise in damage limitation has turned out to be too little, too late. His club has been splayed across the national media today – the Mail, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Sky Sports, the Mirror and the BBC have all given the story online column space today – and such reputations can be difficult to shake off.
Other people struggling to fight off unwanted reputations this morning may well be those Atherstone supporters who seemed to think that running across a football pitch to attack away supporters without provocation was, for some reason, something to be proud of. One was an apparently Atherstone-based Newcastle United supporter called Andrew Storey – whose Twitter account has since either closed down or been closed down – who will likely come to regret making such public pronouncements of having committed a criminal offence, especially when there were already Barrow supporters who quite prepared to take screen grabs of his admissions of his own behaviour, such as that reproduced below. Clearly, individuals such as this are either too stupid to have recognised by now that Twitter is a public forum – and Mr Storey may be advised that deleting his account won’t mean that evidence of it will have disappeared altogether should the police opt to get involved – or they simply don’t care what friends, family members, prospective future employers or whoever think of them behaving like half-wits on a Saturday afternoon.
Another Atherstone supporter present at the match was was one Lewis Johnstone (of whom, we should point in the interests of balance, there is no suggestion of any involvement in the disorder), and he described it as:
Meanwhile, one of the people reportedly photographed and published in the Daily Mail’s article on the subject seems to be this individual, one Ben Brookes, who commented on yesterday’s events very early this morning and was then identified by people apparently known to him and were somewhat surprised to see him in the national media:
Little scrotes, however, will be little scrotes, and the media attention lavished upon yesterday’s events at Atherstone means that it seems inconceivable that at least those who were photographed and have now been identified on the pitch or who admitted to their transgressions on Twitter will not be called to account for their behaviour. For them, it’s entirely possible that a criminal record and a football banning order will be the outcome of ther actions. After all, taking – or even attempting to take – a flare into a football ground is a criminal offence under The Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol, etc) Act 1985. Most football banning orders imposed by a court after a conviction for a football related offence are for three years.
This does not only prevent the fan from attending football matches for the next three years, but can also prevent them from entering the town of their football team on match days and require them to hand their passport to the Police when theirnational team are playing overseas, if appropriate. A football banning order will show up on a Criminal Records Bureau checks and may prevent a somebody with one from obtaining a visa to travel to countries such as the USA. On top of this, the sentence for such an offence can be up to three months in prison, and in many cases even suporters with no previous convictions have been sent to prison for attempting to enter a football ground with a smoke bomb in their pocket.
Ultimately, though, Atherstone Town Football Club has serious questions to ask concerning its operations for a match that attracted a far higher crowd than normal. Barrow supporters have reported that they were searched on their way into the ground. If this is true, then why weren’t flares taken into the ground by some home supporters not picked up upon at the same time? Similarly, once in the ground, why was no action taken when said flares were thrown? It has even been reported by some Barrow supporters that, after they made 999 calls because of fears over their own safety within the ground, the police initially weren’t allowed entry into the ground once they arrived. Could this possibly be true and, if so, why?
The biggest question that the club has to answer, however, is why it failed so dismally in its moral obligation to look after away supporters. The club broke one of its most fundamental obligations to a fellow club yesterday afternoon, and should be brought to account for allowing a situation that was easily avoidable. As for the individuals who seem to have found their random acts of violence against strangers yesterday afternoon so entertaining, meanwhile, well, we can only hope that they don’t sleep soundly in their beds tonight. It is to be hoped that their lives soon become very uncomfortable indeed.
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