Just when you think you’ve seen everything from local journalism, something comes along that stuns you.
But today Reading fans were astounded to see a front-page "expose" in the Reading Chronicle entitled "The Other Face of Football" – talking about the problem of hooliganism that is linked to Reading FC supporters. Many thought this was an April Fool’s article issued a tad too early, because anyone who has been to a Reading match knows just how docile and law-abiding Reading supporters are. Even the Police commander at Liverpool FC praised Reading supporters for being the best-behaved set of supporters to visit Anfield when the team played there a few years ago.
I can’t begin to understand why anyone would publish something quite as scare-mongering and offensive to supporters as this (although I do have a few theories), but one thing I do know is that this tawdry piece of journalism deserves fulsome dismantling. That’ll come in due course, but for the moment let’s just pick on a few quick points that show just how poor this piece is.
Firstly, let’s look at some numbers. I’ll use the definitive figures on this subject, the latest Home Office ones, "Statistics on football related arrests and football banning orders, Season 2012 – 13" which were issued in October last year and cover the previous season – one when Reading were in the Premier League so you’d expect any "hooliganism problem" to be at it biggest.
In fact, the figures show just how little a problem there is – out of total home Premier League attendances at the MadStad that season of 453,378, there was a grand total of 1 (ONE) Reading supporter arrested. I’ll leave the mathematicians to work out the exact proportion this represents, but it’s a very, very, very, very, very small number which shows just how worthless this article is.
Looking at away matches last season there were a total of 8 (EIGHT) arrests of Reading supporters – that makes a total of nine in all, from attendances of nearly half a million. I can’t be bothered to add up all the away attendances – I don’t need to in order to show just how much of a "hooligan problem" actually does exist in reality.
Incidentally, of that total of nine arrests, the figures show that three were for public order offences, one was for possession of an offensive weapon, and the other five were for alcohol offences, which further discredits this story of rampant, uncontrolled violence. In fact, when it comes to Football Banning Orders, only five Reading supporters have these at the moment, with just one issued last season – again, numbers so low that they show this story to be a load of stereotyping twaddle..
But as the author of this piece is also trying to talk about football in general and not just Reading supporters, the figures don’t support that, either. From these same figures we can see that out of total football attendances of over 39 million in "regulated matches", there were arrests equivalent to less than 0.01% of the total – that’s one arrest for every 14,000 spectators. There were also no arrests whatsoever at 75% of matches, and 58% of matches were police-free.
On the inside pages this article continues in the same wildly sensationalist way - for instance talking about "Brawls, beatings and racist slurs - shock revelations of violence on match days", but the story to accompany this hardly supports the sensationalist headline, and the examples given would be unrecognisable to those who attend matches at the MadStad. These examples also all involve small numbers of supporters and frequently happen well away from the stadium. I'm certainly not saying that these incidents didn't happen, but to take a handful of incidents over a few seasons, and to somehow extrapolate this into the kind of "hooliganism problem" this article presents is shabby journalism of the worst kind. If these incidents were quite so serious, and if the police are quite so concerned, just why did they not think it worth arresting the miscreants?
So far, so sensationalist .
But the author of this piece takes things to a whole new level beyond just being ignorant, stereotypical and clinging onto out-dated and discredited stereotypes. He then gets downright offensive.
To say that the Hillsborough disaster is "a symbol of hooliganism" shows just how little he knows about the subject – and anyone who knowingly publishes such a statement after the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in September 2012 doesn’t deserve to work as a serious journalist. It’s a slur worthy of the worst depths of the Daily Mail, and for which for which there should be an immediate retraction and apology.
Finally, if we didn’t know already just how valid this article was, we just have to look at the full-page picture adorning the front page. A "hooligan" in a Reading shirt, with face covered by scarf and hood, and wielding a rough stick of wood. I can't publish it here, but it's on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nick_gutteridge/status/446606616960311297/photo/1
Everyone who’s ever been to a football match knows that if there is any "hooliganism" – and yes there is a tiny amount as the figures show – it would be highly unlikely to come from someone in a football shirt. What problems there are tend to come from "casuals" – certainly not from shirt-wearing supporters. But we see below this picture in small letters the quality (and I use the word in its loosest sense here) of journalism. We see the words "posed by model." The Reading Chronic (that's not a typo, by the way!) actually had to find someone to pretend to be a football hooligan, and knew so little about the subject they got this laughably wrong. Enough said, really …..
So, over to you, Reading Chronicle – will you apologise for the offensive and inaccurate slurs in this piece, and will you give me space in next week’s edition to reply on behalf of football supporters - and Reading fans in particular?
The Reading Chronicle's Editor Maurice O'Brien has responded to Jon's article as below.
All the individual facts in our report were taken from official police records.
There was no intention, deliberate or otherwise, to link Hillsborough with hooliganism. The point we were making is that, at the time everyone came to their senses and decided football had to clean up its act, names like Hillsborough and Heysel were synonymous with the game's problems. We are fully aware that Hillsborough had nothing to do with hooliganism and I am profoundly sorry if anyone has been led to believe we would think otherwise.
Reading FC have responded in the form of an open letter from Sir John Madejski which you can find here.