Opinion: even football supporters have civil liberties… don’t they?

There I was with a couple of mates when a group of police officers appeared and started filming us.

None of us had a criminal record, nor were we doing anything remotely suspicious. We were not drunk, we were in a public place and there was nothing untoward going on around us either.

Our only crime was to have visited a football stadium to watch a match.

To rub it in even further, not only was one of the officers recording video for almost the entire 90 minutes another stood right next to her and took dozens of pictures.

At first I thought the whole situation was bordering on the absurd, after all, it was Leeds United v Southampton, not a needle match by any stretch of the imagination. But after I considered the matter for a while I started to think something more untoward was going on. The three of us and hundreds of others were being treated like criminals without even a hint that we might do something wrong.

Had we been acting in the same way while standing in the city town centre, there would have been no cause for concern. But because we were at a football match, it seemed we were fair game.

At half time the snap-happy cops disappeared, presumably only to eat a raw onion and I asked one of their colleagues nearby what was going on. Apparently the police do it routinely in order to pick out ‘known troublemakers’.

I pointed out that I was certainly not one of those, and yet the camera was clearly pointed in my direction, but he said it didn’t make any difference. The ‘known troublemakers’ hadn’t made any trouble all half, nor did they for the rest of the match, but this police tactic is seen as perfectly acceptable.

It’s clear that there’s a problem with a small minority that sometimes causes trouble as part of their day out at the football. But to criminalise the rest of the law-abiding fans is downright wrong and raises questions about the powers of police.

As a football fan and citizen, I’m worried that this is the proverbial ‘thin end of the wedge’. If we accept this sort of erosion of our civil liberties today, what small section of society will be unfairly targeted next? Perhaps soon we will see an officer standing outside shops that are popular targets for thieves, filming everybody who enters and exits the doors.

Of course, we would all agree that would be ridiculous because simply being in Boots, Waitrose or anywhere else should not make one a suspected criminal. And, by the same logic, neither should watching a football match. Groups of people, whether they are black, women, dog owners, shoppers or football fans, should not be treated in this way.

As liberals, we should oppose this sort of policing.

“Gary Shearer” is a pseudonym. The author is a football supporter and has asked for professional reasons to publish this article under a pseudonym. Their identity has, however, been verified by the site’s editorial team.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Whilst I get your point and I acknowledge being filmed by the police probably doesn’t feel great you should consider 1. you’re in a public place so it’s perfectly legal… it’d be equally legal for me to come along and film you without your consent and 2. when you’re in Boots and Waitrose you are constantly filmed; it’s called CCTV.

  • Cheltenham Robin 13th Mar '12 - 12:57pm

    What a lot of tosh. In what way does this affect your Civil Liberties?

  • It would also have appeared that the camera was aimed directly at you if it was actually aimed at someone else close by. And if having the camera there put the “known troublemakers” off making any trouble, then it was surely a success without actually having any impact at all on peoples enjoyment of the game.

  • Andrew Suffield 13th Mar '12 - 1:02pm

    While this was a waste of police resources, I firmly believe that it is entirely legal to film and photograph anything that happens in public places.

  • paul barker 13th Mar '12 - 1:14pm

    The question is, how would the police react if you started filming them ? its not just whether its legal, its very bad manners to film without permission & the police should have good manners.
    Is it paranoid to point out that the police sometimes try to wind people up ?

  • Police also instruct football supporters to be kept behind in stadiums en masse in order to separate the two team’s supporters. I object to this restriction on my freedom of movement

  • Richard Dean 13th Mar '12 - 1:31pm

    Mmmm. These things sometimes look different when more facts are provided, and different again when even more are! In your shoes I would have taken photos of them on a cellphone, but then again, I tend to do things for inteest rather than for safety!

    The British police are fantastically tolerant compared to almost every other country, and mostly go unarmed into situations that would make other police forces would tremble. They over-react seriously sometimes, but even that is nothing compared to other countries, see eg . http://carilaw.cavehill.uwi.edu/permalink/33548/default.aspx

  • mike cobley 13th Mar '12 - 1:36pm

    Hmm. Surely the question we should be asking is, would these measures (whether those currently extant or to be introduced) help or hinder an authoritarian government seeking to suppress opposition to its policies? In that context, a significant amount of policing and anti-terrorism law enacted since 9-11 could be seen to be anti-democratic.

  • It has occurred to me that you could make prison voluntary by offering permanent football coverage.

  • I agree with ‘Cheltenham Robin’…How would you react if, for instance, a serious assault took place in a bar by a group fitting your descriptions and this ‘infringement on your liberties’ proved your innocence?

  • Not sure I agree with the ‘you’d change your mind if the photos turned out to be useful’ argument … suppose I was at the match with my brother’s girlfriend, and he didn’t know, and my wife didn’t know, and … I guess you can see where I’m going with this? (And the same applies to the High Street – surely you can’t have the police filming everybody for no particular reason, just in case the footage comes in handy at some point?)

    I’ve never liked the ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide’ argument; I remember someone saying (quite rightly) ‘Why shouldn’t I have something to hide?’

  • OK – but most grounds have CCTV already in place to survey the crowds, and I would assume Leeds Utd would still have this in place at Elland Road from their days in the Premiership. Since the CCTV would produce (a) better quality pictures, and (b) instantly pick someone out and follow them, why are the police wasting time and resources on this?

    Oh, and Richard, if you’d taken photos and videos of the police, then you might have got in a shot of the match – this would of course be breach of copyright and you’d have to ensure that Sue, Grabbit and Runne were available to defend you against Alex Salmond’s new best mate…

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