Football-Only Crimes

There are 9 football-only crimes, created by 11 pieces of legislation targeting football fans. These acts are only criminal if committed within a football stadium, or when travelling to or from a football match. None of these offences would apply at other sporting events. These include:

‘Indecent’ or ‘offensive’ chanting

This means that football fans are subject to greater restrictions than existing hate speech or public order legislation in other public spaces. Yet arguably indecency and offence in chants mean less than if the same words were said directly to a person in a street.

This offence was created by the Football Offences Act 1991, which prohibited ‘indecent’ or racist chanting. The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Behaviour Act Scotland 2012 created a special offence of ‘offensive behaviour’ if it occurs ‘in relation to a regulated football match’.

There have been 163 arrests and 45 prosecutions for indecent or racist chanting since 2010.

Missile throwing

This offence has been interpreted very broadly, to include not only missiles which could have harmed someone (which would be an offence under other laws), but also the throwing of fancy dress trousers in the air or throwing tiny items such as chewing gum or a malteser.

This offence was created by the Football Offences Act 1991.

There have been 288 arrests and 197 prosecutions for throwing missiles since 2010.

Encroaching on the pitch

Pitch invasion is not a criminal offence in other sports; it is only against grounds regulations. A moment of jubilation or protest may mean a football fan is arrested and charged – even though pitch invasions have marked football’s most iconic moments. This can include people who were pushed on to the pitch in a crowd surge, or fans staging a pitch invasion as a protest against their club’s owners (which is often one of the few available avenues of protest). It is also an offence to go on to the area adjacent to the pitch.

This offence was created by the Football Offences Act 1991.

There have been 925 arrests and 733 prosecutions for going on to the pitch since 2010.

Possession of alcohol

There are offences of ‘Possession of alcohol whilst entering or trying to enter ground’, drinking in view of the pitch, and ‘Being drunk in, or whilst trying to enter, ground’. These are not offences at Royal Ascot or Twickenham. Without any wrongdoing, fans may be arrested and charged for the mere fact of being drunk, or for having a beer in their bag while trying to enter the ground.

These two offences were created by the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985.

In total there have been 3,367 arrests for alcohol offences in football grounds since 2010. There have been 190 prosecutions for possession of alcohol whilst entering or trying to enter ground and 791 for being drunk in, or whilst trying to enter, ground.

Possession of pyrotechnic devices

There is an offence of ‘possession of pyrotechnic devices while in, or trying to enter, ground’, which would include not only flares and smoke bombs but also sparklers.

This offence was created by the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985.

See the FSF fact sheet.

There have been 424 arrests and 28 prosecutions for possession of pyrotechnic devices while in, or trying to enter the ground since 2010.

Ticket resale or donation

Ticket touting is common in other sports and public events; only in football it is a criminal act. It is also an offence for somebody to give a ticket away, or to advertise that they have a ticket for resale or donation.

This offence was created by three pieces of legislation. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 prohibited ticket touting in football. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 made it an offence for an ‘unauthorised person’ to give a ticket away, or to advertise that they have a ticket to give away or for sale. The Ticket Touting (Designation of Football Matches) Order 2007 extended ticket resale regulations to cover all international matches involving England and Wales teams.

There have been 461 arrests and around 15 prosecutions for unauthorised sale or attempted sale of tickets since 2010.

Breach of Football Banning Order 

Football Banning Orders can be applied on the basis of a conviction for a football-related offence. Additionally, civil banning orders can be sought against individuals on the basis of a ‘complaint’ by a chief constable. If granted, Banning Orders can impose restrictions such as not going within three miles of a football stadium on match days, or requirements to report to the police station at designated times or to surrender your passport when club or country are playing abroad. The breaking of a banning order is a criminal offence.

Banning Orders can be sought against those merely suspected of engagement in football disorder, which could be on the basis of someone’s ‘association’ with ‘risk fans’. This means that these draconian conditions may apply to somebody never convicted of an offence. Police can rely on evidence to support their application which is up to 10 years old. Some fans have accepted the banning order simply because they cannot afford to contract a solicitor to contest it.

Banning orders were created and extended through several pieces of legislation. The Football Spectators Act 1989 first created Football Banning Orders upon conviction. The Football Offences and Disorder Act 1999 extended banning orders for ticket touts and pitch invasion. The Football Disorder Act 2000 created civil banning orders, allowing orders to be imposed on the basis of a ‘complaint’ rather than conviction. It also allowed for people to be required to surrender their passport at certain times, such as international matches, even if the person has never followed club or country overseas. Finally, the Football Disorder (Amendment) Act 2002 extended the duration of the powers enacted in the Football Disorder Act 2000, which initially was only for 12 months.

There were 2,181 Football banning orders active on 8 September 2015, and 484 new banning orders issued in season 2014–15.

There is special Home Office funding for police forces to prepare applications for civil banning orders, which creates a financial incentive for these to be pursued. Between 2008-12, the Home Office provided £3.73 million funding to England and Wales police forces for civil banning order applications.