Nobody would try to deny that football hooliganism was one of the more shaming aspects of the 1980s, and nobody would deny that in the existence of the 6:57 crew Pompey did not have its share of the troubles.
However, by the same token, nobody old enough to be able to compare the experience of going to football games then and now could deny that today’s football is a world apart from the darkest days of violence.
Sure, fighting is not completely a thing of the past, as recent incidents elsewhere in the country have shown, but even if you bemoan the loss of the more hardcore working-class fan, matches are safer, friendlier and more welcoming.
This is why we are concerned about the treatment of Pompey fans in Shrewsbury, and would back investigation by the Football Supporters’ Federation into why West Mercia Police behaved the way they did.
Pompey fans were ‘kettled’ into a nightclub in the early afternoon, and could only leave with a police escort. No explanation has been given for this – with the police just saying they had ‘intelligence’.
No evidence has been produced to suggest that any violence was planned – and indeed, an end-of-season, fancy dress match is hardly the normal situation for a ruck. Pompey fans’ pitch invasion at Brentford a fortnight earlier was to be condemned, but it was understandable given the relief that surrounded the club’s existence having been secured a few days earlier – and it was a nuisance. It wasn’t violent.
The concern at the Shrewsbury game is that police appear to have carte blanche to impinge on civil liberties with no explanation. Because the people involved are ‘just’ football fans, they appear to have fewer rights than other citizens, and this is not right. We agree with intensive police tactics for known flashpoints, such as the derby with Saints, but this wasn’t one of them. West Mercia Police, you have some explaining to do. Self-justifying arguments about how few arrests there were are not convincing – perhaps the lack of trouble was despite, not because of the policing.