A Hope

Column
12.02.15

A Hope

for Fighting Football Crowd Troubles in Tanah Air

by Muhammad Hilmi

 

Three weeks after the Hillsborough Tragedy of April 1989 claimed 96 football fans from Merseyside, police investigators intimidated Liverpool supporters to give false testimony implicating football fans themselves as the cause of the tragedy. The relationship between United Kingdom police and the supporters were in a nadir.

English football fans and law enforcement agencies underwent dark times during the 1970-80s. Trust and perception of the public towards the authorities were dwindling because of police violence in handling riots that affected the countries. The police themselves regarded football related troubles, known as “hooliganism” as a disease and football fans as no better than animals.

Street battles were rampaging all over the countries because the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher policies resulted in severe in social programs cutbacks and job losses, mostly through the closure of coal mines which were the beating economical heart of the northern parts of the country.

Greater Manchester Police report of 1991 showed that other than the police, the British tabloids also formed public opinions which cornered football fans further. The tabloids used phrases such as ‘thugs’ and ‘animals’ to brutally describe and simplify hooliganism problems. It’s not a surprise because Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the largest and far reaching tabloid of the time, the Sun with 4 million daily copy sales, were holding hands with Thatcher’s regime throughout the decade.

In its infamous “The Truth” headline three days after Hillsborough, the Sun points their finger solely to the Liverpool fans. They based the articles from interviews and police reports from the West Midlands police. In time, this is proven to be wildly incorrect. The Hillsborough Independent Panel report two years ago concluded that police failure in handling mass control and the decrepit stadium infrastructure were major causes of the tragedy.

Police Intimidation
Recent investigations even put the police as changing witness testimonies to heap blame on the fans. John (not his real name) was one of the many Liverpool supporter who attended the match at Hillsborough and he told BBC Newsnight how police investigators waltz into his house three weeks after the tragedy to talk to him. He told the investigators of how the authorities lost control in Hillsborough. However, the two investigators intimidate him to give faulty testimony. “We have what you say and you just need to sign this paper over here,” said one of the investigators.

Only after 25 years passed did he saw what his “testimony” was like. Sure enough, according to him it is very far from the truth. Move forward to Saturday, 1st of February 2014, before the Newcastle-Sunderland derby. Some 45 minutes before kick-off, the sound of helicopter dominated that bright shinny day in Tyneside. It is not normal that a police or media helicopter to be circling St. James’ Park before a match. Whilst walking to the stadium, I anticipate Newcastle United supporters to behave badly before or after the match.

Just a few days before, the Magpies had just sold their best player and firm fans favorite, Yohan Cabaye, without getting anyone else as a replacement. The hatred for Mike Ashley, the owner, reached boiling point and I suspect it will be released on this Tyne-Wear derby game, like the last time.

The chaos that ensued after the last derby back in April 2013, where Newcastle got thrashed 0-3 by their neighbors, are still fresh in the memories of Indonesians who study here. “A Molotov or some sort of small explosive exploded not far from where I was having my lunch in Chinatown, it shakes my table,” said Fedelis Fernando, a Design student in Newcastle University.

Almost all of my friends here still remember where they were on that day which is best remembered when a man in Newcastle jersey punched Bud the police horse. That day, 29 supporters arrested and the trials are still active to this day.

A Secure Feeling
It is 12.30 local time or 15 minutes before kick-off when I encountered a gathering of a large group of people singing in front of the Milburn Stand and the small hike that leads to the largest of St. James’ Park tribunes. Again, this is not normal. Apparently, this group were waiting for opposition supporters who will came to the stadium along St. James’ Boulevard (one of the city’s biggest artery), Gallowgate, and then Barrack Road.

Then, their rivals arrived. Some 2.400 Sunderland fans came in a neat procession with hundreds of police officers surrounding them. They walked up the rising inclination, coming into view as if coming from the deep. With them, come also a chorus of insults from the home supporters. Things were definitely heating up.

First to come into view was a white police van with cages protecting the windshield area. It was followed by four police horses and a few dozen police officers before the Sunderland fans came into view.

Banter and chants between the two set of thousands of supporters were inevitable. It looked (and smelled) obvious that these people had one or two beers before coming to the stadium even though Northumbria Police put strict restrictions on Newcastle pubs not to sell alcohol before the match.

However, never once did I felt my personal safety was in danger while being trapped between those thousands of people. The police barricaded the two set of supporters superbly so they did not dare to overly provoke each other. The fans were safely escorted inside the stadium but that was only half of the job. The game was played and Newcastle got another 0-3 drubbing from their neighbors.

The police learnt their lessons from the previous derby and took extra measures after the match ended. The same amount of hard work was applied in getting the1.500 away supporters to the train station and 800 to the buses that waited approximately 15 minutes walking from St. James’ Park.

“The supporters were well behaved today so the Tyne-Wear derby can be contested without a hitch. I would like to convey my gratitude to both sets of supporters for their cooperation with the officers in the field,” said Chief Superintendent Steve Neill, the commander of the security forces, in the Northumbrian Police website.

After the fiasco of last season, only 10 people were arrested that Saturday. Of that number, two got an on the site warning, two freed of parole, and one was severely reprimanded because of marijuana consumption.

Police Perception
For me, the success for the local police are attributed to professionalism, the presence of a well-defined controlling force and two other factors which requires years of building: perception and good infrastructure.
The need for a sufficient infrastructure cannot be overstated. It is impossible for any police force in the world to control thousands of people safely without wide avenues and sufficient access to a modern mass transport system which are located not far from the stadium.

Local police uses inner city arteries to secure Sunderland supporters while blocking access to that road at the same time from motorists and pedestrians. However, there are no traffic jams that paralyses Newcastle when the supporters march the approximately one kilometer of distance from the stadium to their destinations.

The second factor is perception, how the public perceive the police force themselves. A friend who spent eight years in the United States told me that the American public’s perception to their police force is very negative. “The police are so arrogant because they carry firearms and have the power to arrest people,” he said.

The fact that police officers in America have a monthly quota to give speed fines, arrest people, or just giving the public severe warning are not helping either.

The law enforcement officers here are the opposite. With yellow high-visibility jackets, their presence are felt without giving away the fear factor. Visibility are highly important when we are dealing with thousands of people in a given space. Pre-20th century army wore ornaments and brightly colored uniforms to distinguish friend and foes in the chaos of battle.

At Hillsborough, police constables wore black field dresses which made them indistinguishable at the middle of a crowd of people. Now, the public can see from just the corner of their eyes that law enforcement officers are there to secure the area and break up any potential problems.

One other factor (and the most important for me) is how UK police, except in Northern Ireland, did not armed their patrol officer. They are the few police force in the world who done this alongside the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, and Norway.

The intimidation factor of a security officer holding a weapon is not to be underestimated. For example, while covering an Asian Basketball League in Manila, the Philippines, I was shocked to my guts when I entered a 7/11 store at midnight and saw a police officer standing guard inside with a shotgun!

According to Peter Waddington, professor of social policy in the University of Wolverhampton, English police refuses to be armed because carrying a firearm is not aligned with their principles, “the main responsibility of the UK police are not to the state but to protect the civilian.”

The most important thing from all this is the police rebuilt their trust to the public so that the supporters feels cared of and not treated like an animal that needs to be put behind cages as the situation were before the Premier League era.

Conditions in Indonesia
Obviously, the conditions in Indonesia are still far from the land of Queen Elizabeth II. Police crowd control in our local stadiums could be a whole lot better. I saw police officers use police dogs to control supporters from entering the field of play in Siliwangi Stadium, Bandung.

Indonesian police uniforms also makes their visibility low in a crowded public space so sometimes we can rightly feel that their presence are not enough. Even though if they are visible, some of them carry assault rifles that made me feels like I am going to an away game in prison not to a fun relaxing place. The trust factor between our public and the authorities is still not ideal because a whole range of factors such as corruption scandals.
The lack of infrastructure, be it access around stadiums and lack of modern mass transportation methods all over the country, also hamper our law enforcement efforts.

The above factors do not take into account the very hard task of controlling Indonesian football fans who are often drag into a fight with the local people because we, as a nation, are so easily provoked. No wonder the police often banned high tension matches with “public safety” as an excuse.

Maybe not now or not in any time soon, but I dream of one day to be able to go to a football match in Indonesia with my family like here in the UK without thinking about our safety every time. This can only come true when the public trust towards law enforcement agencies and the governments as an ideal public servant are established.
It goes without saying that the road ahead is highly difficult, but I do not see why we cannot follow the path of people here in the UK.whiteboardjournal, logo