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Loving Football Equates To Natural Criminality, Police Reiterate

There was simply marvelous news for Sunderland fans who actively enjoy being treated like unthinking rampaging animals today...

Stu Forster

It is rare, unprecedented actually, that I begin an article here or anywhere else feeling the need to stress to readers that they may not find me a qualified and informed commentator on its subject matter. That is very much the position I find myself in here, though.

Because, it appears that there are those out there who consider me a mere uneducated football hooligan, hell-bent on using the name of the sport I love and my chosen club as banner beneath which I express my uncontrollable urge to lash out on society and all those within it.

There are, apparently, also those who consider me, by default, a danger to 'the safety of people going about their day to day business'. So allow me to apologise in advance to anyone who does not wish to read the views of such an inherently unpalatable individual.

For those unaware of what I am blathering on about here, it has been revealed that Sunderland fans travelling to Newcastle for the upcoming derby must not, under any circumstances, be granted responsibility for their own conduct (until they are seen to be doing something wrong, of course, then you are very much on your own).

Under the terms and conditions of the purchase of a match ticket, fans must agree that the use of 'official transport' is a prerequisite of entry into the ground.

For those struggling for an analogy, it is roughly the same as a friendly domestic pet with absolutely no history of aggression or posing danger to those around it, a beloved family dog perhaps, being denied entry to somewhere without an official state escort, a muzzle, and an oppressively short leash.

In fact, just about the only difference is that the treatment of an animal in such a way would create more public outrage.

If you want to get technical - which is generally what people do when they need something to hide behind - the process is called 'bubbling'. Separate rival fans, ensuring they never come into contact with each other making tribal violence impossible.

But don't let that fool you. What it actually is, is the presumption of guilt by association which are, so far as my limited legal expertise allow me to understand, complete antitheses to the most fundamental laws upon which our society is built.

I don't sit here professing the celestialness of all football fans, by the way. I am perfectly aware that there are idiots who will deliberately use it as an excuse for violence. There are also those who will use it as an excuse for excessive drinking, and then cite the influence of alcohol - or toothache, or both - for doing stuff like punching horses. On derby day, when emotions are at their height, the chances of such brain-dead parasites on society making prats of themselves increase, I fully understand that.

But idiots exist in any walk of life. There were arrests made after the Rihanna concert last summer at the Stadium of Light for 'various offences, mainly related to alcohol'. On that topic, it is noticeable that I attend the ground as a music fan and be allowed to drink in my seat, yet sit in the exact same seat watching football and I deemed an irresponsible buffoon suddenly incapable of controlling himself and intent on the wilful destruction of everyone around me.

The individual is the same, the venue is the same, the exact same seat could be the same - literally the only difference is the reason I am there. It is an therefore surely an unavoidable conclusion that the reason for the inequality in treatment is due to the fact that one day I am a branded 'a football fan', and the other I am not.

It may seem like I have wandered from the point there but it is certainly relevant. I was mostly brought up in the Newcastle area. I have friends and family who live there. I travel there very often, and yet only when I do so under the banner of football are my basic rights denied me.

Any other day if I want to meet my sister for lunch in Newcastle before I attend an event, I am allowed and encouraged to. Or if I want to do a little shopping in the city centre after a game, I am allowed to, and quite rightly so.

I thought that I was granted responsibility for my own actions as a basic right of living in a free country? I know that if I broke the law I'd be demanded to take full responsibility for my actions. "Well, Your Honour, it's really the police's fault for not stopping me from doing it - punish them instead" would be unlikely to do me any favours.

Yet, when it comes to football, I am asked to accept being treated like a hooligan by default because some people with my shared interests just so happen to be arseholes. Does that mean that I get a knighthood too because I share a football team with Sir Tim Rice, or an MBE because I have a couple of shared interests with Steve Cram?

Of course not. But when it comes to restricting my rights, it is apparently for my own good to treat me like a criminal just in case there might be criminals who support the same team as me? That's the rule, yes?

And, make no mistake about it, I very much feel like I am being treated like a criminal here. I've mingled amongst Newcastle fans all my life. I've attended matches at St James' Park. I've even been to derby games there in the home end as a guest and never encountered nor courted the merest smidgen of trouble.

Sure, there will be a few who do court trouble, but here is an idea - deal with them. Treat them differently, not me. Come to me restricting my movements and travel within my home county when I have actually done something to warrant it, not before.

As to who is responsible for this shenanigans, I am in no position to say. I suspect Northumbria Police are the driving factor behind it, and I don't really buy Sunderland AFC's insistence that fan groups were in full agreement. If they were, I certainly don't believe they were truly representative of the supporter-base as whole.

Nor did I appreciate the wording of the statement from the club's head of safety, Paul Weir, who very clearly suggested that Sunderland fans freely supporting their club endangered the innocent bystanders of Newcastle.

"We also recognise the need by all parties to consider the safety of people going about their day to day business in Newcastle."

I can appreciate they may have been put in a difficult position, but, speaking purely as a supporter, I don't feel they have fairly fought for and defended me. I don't feel even remotely adequately represented. In fact, the whole statement released on the club's official site reads like an insulting lecture which makes me and my support feel about as appreciated as a vegan in a butchers.

But I don't believe for one second that this policy was Sunderland-driven. Poorly handled, without question, but football fans being herded around like animals for no reason is hardly anything new. I don't think you can lay the blame on any one club. I wish you could.

So anyway, board your buses, keep your head down and bare your branding as a criminal as a necessary evil if you want to support your football team and display pride in your heritage. That seems to be the message here. If at all possible, have a responsible adult - that is to say someone who doesn't like football, naturally - escort you to your designated vehicle of official transport too, just to be on the safe side.

For on that day you are not a person. You are not an individual, a father, a mother or anything else. Like me you are a hooligan, and don't even bother to turn up if you're not prepared to accept it.

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