Twelve Monkeys

Just when is the boundary crossed between high spirits and hooliganism? English football has asked this question ever since the first stadiums were built over a century ago. There has still yet to be a definitive answer.

Of course, the drinking culture in this country is irrepairably intertwined with that of sport; the working man only has two days a week in which to enjoy himself after all. The event that is a football match has been given unprecedented leeway in terms of fans’ behaviour because of this: where else can you swear, shout abuse at people and generally be as loud as you like in public? And, inevitably, the boundaries between acceptable and illegal behaviour get lost sometimes.

The twelve people banned at Spotland recently have highlighted this situation. While none of the twelve have been charged with a criminal offence (to my knowledge), the feeling was, at least among the powers that be, were that they were behaving badly, specifically deemed as “intimidatory”. In Colin Garlick’s words; “we have a responsibility to all genuine football supporters … unfortunately there has been a growing number of incidents … and this behaviour is threatening the friendly reputation that we have in football”.

So what exactly did they do? Of course, the banned fans don’t think they’ve done anything out of the ordinary. “Football and drinking go hand-in-hand”, “we are some of the most fervent supporters”, “we start the most chants”… the points raised are inevitable and ultimately true. But do they think entitles them to act like nobheads (to put it bluntly)? As some messageboard regulars point out, many many Dale fans drink before a match, yet the large majority never have any trouble with police. These twelve must have been doing something so offensive as to be arrested during the Accrington game.

So is Mr. Garlick justified in banning these twelve fans? In today’s footballing world, quite simply the answer is yes. From a purely financial viewpoint, the fewer of these types of fans we have, the fewer police we will need; the money saved will surely cover the gate receipts from twelve people. Again from a financial standing, a first-time visitor to Spotland is more likely to enjoy the game without the intimidating behaviour of these fans and maybe come again. And intimidating is the right word, even if it isn’t their intention to be so (having a go at fellow Dale away fans for not singing at Macclesfield is just one example).

But having said all this, a part of me wonders whether it’s all necessary. As they so often claim, the Daleys in question are the loudest fans and they do sing constantly for ninety minutes as they claim. Is banning them just taking us a step closer to bland listlessness? Part of the reason why most Dale fans are Dale fans is because it’s so much more “real” than the corporate boredom of the Premier League football. I’m not advocating harbouring hooligans to increase atmosphere by any stretch of the imagination, but will banning twelve people really get rid of the problem anyway?

It remains to be seen if these banning orders will have any affect on attendance, on reputation or indeed on atmosphere. I can overwhelmingly see why the club have taken these measures, and I agree with it, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t drive a wedge between two sets of supporters. In fighting between fans is the last thing we need when we’re chasing promotion.

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