Channel 4 Dispatches on racism in football
The most senior police officer in England responsible for policing football tells Channel 4 Dispatches that there is a problem with the under-reporting of racist incidents at football games.
This admission by DCC Andy Holt, National Policing Lead on Football Policing features in a wider undercover investigation into hate on English football terraces - airing Monday 3rd March on Channel 4.
Last year the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, back by the Football Association, promised to tackle “..all forms of abuse in football, be it in the stands, or on our computer screens”.
In the days and months after this statement, Channel 4 Dispatches filmed undercover in the football grounds of some of the biggest clubs across the country and exposed a catalogue of racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic abuse.
· 20 homophobic incidents across three matches at Brighton & Hove Albion. Even though last season their fans complained to the FA that they’d received homophobic abuse in more than half their matches
· Last September, anti-Semitic chanting by Chelsea fans mocking the home club Tottenham’s Jewish links. Yet stewards were disinterested in investigating the incident brought to their attention by our undercover reporter
· Several incidents of anti-Semitic chanting at home and away fixtures between West Ham and Tottenham - yet there is currently no FA or police investigation into West Ham
· Several incidents of racist and Islamophobic chanting by Millwall fans at an away match at Leicester. The police later said they weren’t aware of any racist incidents during this match even though our undercover reporter reported the abuse to a steward and the police at the time
Channel 4 Dispatches hears from a well-respected former Premier League and Championship footballer who was racially abused throughout his career.
The programme also exclusively reveals the true extent of racism on social media were at least 40% of the 150 black Premiership players had been subjected to some sort of racist comment on Twitter over the last two years.
Racism on the Terraces
Jason Roberts was racially abused as a professional Football between 1997 – 2014 while playing for a number of Premier League and Championship clubs.
Roberts says: “I've heard it on Sundays as a young man, I've heard it non-league, I've heard it in Division 2, Division 1, Championship and I’ve heard it in the Premier League. I've had it from people in the street, I've had it from team mates, I’ve had it from managers, I’ve had it from coaches, I’ve had it from crowds.”
“I have had monkey chants in, in the last two, three years,” he adds.
“Well I mean its – the frustration is that we all know it’s happening, we all know where it’s happening. I can tell you at certain clubs, certain places um exactly where in a crowd you're going to get racial abuse from. It’s been the same when I started and it’ll be the same now.”
FA ground regulations are very clear - racist abuse will result in arrest or ejection....that includes Islamophobia.
Our reporters attended this season’s match between Millwall away to Leicester in the Championship and filmed several examples of supporters voicing racist and homophobic chants including:
“Leicester Taliban, Leicester Leicester Taliban.. Leicester Taliban, Leicester Leicester Taliban.”
“Town full of bombers, town full of bombers. You’re just a town full of bombers”
Just before half time, we reported the abuse to a steward and the police.
Channel 4 Dispatches later sent a Freedom of Information request to Leicestershire Police to follow up on our initial report to an officer at the match. They said there were no reports made to Leicestershire Police of racist chanting.
This wasn’t our only test of how Leicestershire police deal with racism on match days.
Three weeks before, Nottingham Forest were playing Leicester. Our reporters secretly filmed fans being escorted by police after the match and again witnessed examples of racist chants, including a supporter chanting right in front of a police officer. He was neither warned nor arrested.
Jason Roberts says: “That’s absolutely shocking, shocking it goes down to the main point of policies and procedures. You would like to think if the police were made aware of this issue that it would follow through on this. And for that not to happen....just it shocks me, genuinely shocks me and worries me for the future that this could happen in 2014.”
Using these examples, Channel 4 Dispatches asked the most senior police officer in England responsible for policing football if there is a problem with the under-reporting of racist incidents at football games
DCC Andy Holt, National Policing Lead on Football Policing says: “I think it’s a more common problem, because of under-reporting than the statistics would indicate….I think there’s potentially underreporting by police officers and by clubs.”
We contacted 43 police forces, but none provided any statistics for reports of racism at football.
Leicestershire Police say:
“… tackling racism is an important issue for Leicestershire Police and we take very seriously any suggestion that we are failing to deal with racist chanting.
“We work … hard to prevent … racism in football. This is evidenced by the action taken over many years.
“Should any criminal offences come to light as a result of this broadcast, we will of course take steps to investigate and identify and prosecute offenders.
“We will review the footage to satisfy ourselves that Leicestershire police officers have not acted inappropriately. We will also identify any learning and ensure it is embedded in future policy, procedure and practice”.
The Football League says:
”The football league and its clubs are fully committed to tackling discrimination, in whatever form it may occur. To this end, we launched our Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Code of Practice across all 72 League clubs, earlier this season.
We will continue to work with the Police to prevent football being used as a platform by those holding views that are completely unacceptable.”
Homophobic Abuse on the Terraces
Brighton is considered to be the gay capital of England and last season their fans complained to the FA that they’d received homophobic abuse in more than half their matches.
However, the abuse continues for Brighton fans this season. Channel 4 Dispatches catalogued 20 homophobic incidents across three matches.
Last August, the Crown Prosecution Service and police introduced what they called “robust” new guidelines to deal with homophobic chanting.
The very day after this announcement we filmed at a Brighton & Hove Albion home game against Burnley.
Our reporters filmed examples of Burnley fans singing homophobic chants just meters away from a police officer.
At another match between Brighton & Hove Albion away to Wigan, we filmed several examples of homophobic chanting and comments including:
"It's a long way home, you faggots"
“Get bumming him boys …Gayboy”
“Do you take it up the arse?”
Even small children could be heard joining in with chants.
With 15 minutes left of the game, one of our undercover reporters spoke to the stewards and was told one family had been ejected for homophobic abuse, but the chants continued.
We showed our footage to two gay football fans.
Elliot Toms, a Brighton season ticket holder says: “It’s clear some of it’s stepping over the line really. So yeah, yeah I do find that shocking.”
Chris Basiurski, a leading campaigner against homophobia say: “Could you hear the kids voice singing it, very loud and very clear. Sounded about 6 or 7 years old. I was very worried about that. He’s going to grow up thinking yes it’s okay to laugh and sing about gay people.”
Both men believe that the football authorities do not take homophobia as seriously as other types of abuse.
When asked if they would be able to go and support their local team and not hear a homophobic chant, Elliot Toms says: “Well perhaps at the current rate I don’t think that will ever happen but you know with a bit of effort, you know we could probably stamp this out in perhaps a decade or so.
Darren Bailey, FA Director of Governance and Regulation, says: “Clearly footage that you’ve shown is of concern and we wouldn’t want to see any of that nature, in any of our grounds.”
“We all have a responsibility – clubs, supporters, players, law enforcement and the FA...We actually write out to all clubs that visit in advance of fixtures against Brighton, home and away to tell them and remind them of their responsibilities.”
“It may not be working as effectively as we would wish and we have to continue to squeeze out those number of incidents wherever we’re able to do so...We can only do this collectively. So we need the work of the police, we need the work of the crown prosecution service, we need the work of the judiciary.”
We showed our footage of the Burnley match to Andy Holt, the most senior officer in England responsible for policing football.
“I can clearly see that there’s some inappropriate behaviour going on, some of which may well merit an arrest.”
“…It could well be that nothing has happened and if that is the case then that is disappointing.“
Channel 4 Dispatches attended two West Ham games away against Tottenham and filmed several examples of anti-Semitic abuse on the way to the ground both outside and inside the stadium, in front of both police and stewards. There is currently no FA or Police investigation into West Ham.
During a match last September, we also filmed some Chelsea fans mocking the home club’s Jewish links – by mimicking the sound of Nazi gas chambers.
After the game, our undercover reporter informed Tottenham’s stewards about the anti-Semitic incident but was fobbed off by disinterested staff.
The governing body has been criticized for not enforcing stricter punishments on clubs, whose fans are repeatedly racist.
Piara Powar from the FIFA Anti-Discrimination Taskforce says: “The problem is that the Premier League clubs and the Football League clubs have a significant voice within the FA. They may be the ones who are stopping reform of the FA’s rules because they fear that it will have a negative impact on them.”
FA Director of Governance and Regulation, Darren Bailey says: “I don't think we’re influenced by them but I think the way in which the sport’s governance now operate is a much more nuanced style, it’s not the clinking fist coming down from above...
it’s important that you don't create the impression that the clubs are not concerned about these things coming to light, they do want them to be dealt with....and that sends a very powerful signal.”
“They [the football clubs] understand that this affects their business, they understand that it affects their brand, they understand it affects their club and they want to do something about it.”
Jewish Tottenham fan Raymond Simonson believes that more than two people should have been punished for anti-Semitic chanting at last year’s West Ham v Tottenham match.
“Nowhere near enough when there were tens maybe even hundreds of fans that were saying it. If the reason that we don’t arrest people for committing a crime is because there is too many of them to arrest, we’ve got to start thinking about the systems. Because if there were a hundred people committing a robbery on that bank... we wouldn’t say oh there is too many to arrest, we’ll do a token arrest of one”, he says.
In response to our investigation the Premier League says:
“The Premier League and our member clubs are committed to eradicating discriminatory behaviour at our football matches.
Steward training focuses on dealing with discriminatory abuse and improved reporting procedures have been introduced, including guidance on how to report at the match or later on.
The new Kick It Out reporting app makes reporting issues more accessible and discreet.
Stewarding is backed up by improved CCTV in grounds and by the use of sanctions against offenders, including expulsion from the ground, suspension of season tickets, and banning from future matches.
“Most of the alleged offences identified by Dispatches took place outside grounds and beyond the control of football clubs, however The Premier League and our clubs have always worked closely with the Police …. to ensure that if criminality is involved then robust action is taken, ….we have always argued for the strongest possible action where the evidence merits it.”
Racism and Social Media
Last year the police said they would tackle football discrimination from “the stands” to the “computer screens”. This police commitment to sorting internet abuse will be a big ask.
Channel 4 Dispatches investigated the online racial abuse of footballers and found alarming comments even on the fan forums linked to the official websites of Premier League football clubs including Manchester United and Everton.
Our findings unearthed the true extent of racist abuse top footballers have to face.
Channel 4 Dispatches searched Twitter and discovered that at least 40% of the 150 black Premiership players had been subjected to some sort of racist comment over the last two years.
Former Premier League player Jason Roberts many abusive fans have moved beyond the terraces and now onto Twitter.
“I'm on Twitter myself and some of the abuse that I get is horrific really. You can't believe that people A – feel that way but B – actually will take the step to go and sit in front of a computer and type it and send it”, Jason Roberts says.
“Black this, black that, slavery, your family, you know, I hope you die and the N word used everywhere. Again it’s one of these things you learn to try to deal with it. So you hope that the authorities um will take action and there will be arrests made and people will made....will be made examples of”
But with so many offensive remarks on social media, will the police be able to follow through on their promises?
DCC Andy Holt, National Policing Lead on Football Policing says: “If they're making comments, hosted through an internet provider that’s based in China or the Far East or whatever, tracking them down with the cooperation of some of those, is actually sometimes quite difficult. You're talking you know quite a substantial problem...Policing the internet presents its challenges, I accept that.“
Undercover: Hate on the Terraces – Channel 4 Dispatches – Monday 3rd March at 8pm