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Is Football for Families or Haunted by Hooliganism?

The trialling of family-friendly seating areas will look to make football match days a much safer experience

Over the past few weeks and months, some football clubs across England and Wales have trialled a new scheme which will look to provide an area specifically for families to enjoy on match days. However, given the recent revelations and happenings at Goodison Park during Everton’s Europa League loss to Lyon, can this scheme really work? Will football be forever scrutinised for the actions of a few madmen, or are football hooligans born to be just that?

Towards the end of the Europa League group match on Merseyside a few weeks ago, tensions were rising amongst the players. This eventually resulted in a violent brawl between both sides, and not without casualties. During the bust-up, footage was seen of a man who was holding an infant child in his arms, racing down to the pitch side and appearing to strike out at the Lyon players. Merseyside Police were informed, and Everton have since banned the man from their stadium for life. But is it enough to quell the violence seen at football matches?

“Football violence is also thought to reflect expressions of strong emotional ties to a football team, which may help to reinforce a supporter’s sense of identity.”

It’s not a new thing, fans brawling against one another, or even players getting involved in spats on the field which can lead to aggressive fans exacerbating one another in attempts to bait them into a fight. Scholars at Hope University in Liverpool conducted a study and in 2008, concluded that “Involvement in football violence can be explained in relation to a number of factors, relating to interaction, identity, legitimacy and power. Football violence is also thought to reflect expressions of strong emotional ties to a football team, which may help to reinforce a supporter’s sense of identity.”

They’re not wrong. I’m a football fan myself, and I find my moods on a Saturday dominated by the football scores and outcomes of the games. If my team wins, I’m all good and will gladly enjoy a relaxing evening with some mates watching Match of the Day. If my team have lost, I’ll grumble at the prospect of having to watch my team concede silly and stupid goals again. Fans get passionate about supporting their team, and sometimes that pride can spill over into violence against other teams, as was seen during the Europa League match between Everton and Lyon on October 19th.

In order to combat this ideology with a view to making football match days friendlier towards families with children attending, clubs up and down the country are beginning to incorporate areas within stands that are specifically designated for families and children under 16 years of age. My hometown football team, Burton Albion, is one such club trialling this new experiment, and they have approached it in a multitude of ways.

During the home matches against Ipswich and Barnsley on October 28th and 31st respectively, Burton Albion Football Club will be trialling a Family Area for parents with children under 16 years of age to enjoy the match day experience at the Pirelli Stadium. It will be strictly for those under 16 years of age, unless accompanied by someone within that age bracket, and it is planned that the advertising boards will be removed to allow for a clearer view of the match for younger viewers. The area will have a strict “No swearing” policy, which will be enforced by stewards in the area. Anyone caught swearing will be asked to leave the area immediately, though not removed from the stadium entirely. Should the Family Area prove to be a success during the two games mentioned previously, the club will look to make it a permanent addition to the stand.

Over the summer, Burton Albion Community Trust ran an NCS summer programme for young people aged 16-17 to help them learn new life skills and give them something to do over the summer months. One team that worked with the Trust took on a project that involved painting a mural of the clubs’ mascot, Billy Brewer, to be placed in the vicinity of the newly-designated Family Area. Matt Hancock, head of Burton Albion Community Trust, recently gave his thoughts on the upcoming home games and the potential for the family area in a statement on the club’s website. Hancock said, “It’s important that we make the Pirelli Stadium an exciting, safe and enjoyable place to come for families and we have lots of plans for making the match day experience memorable for children and their parents.”

“With a small Championship club like Burton Albion, whose stadium has a capacity of six and a half thousand, it would be a lot easier to regulate trouble than with somewhere like Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.”

The other thing to consider is whether or not this kind of scheme would work in a bigger stadium, perhaps that of a Premier League club. Whilst the emphasis of the club, I’m sure, would be on making sure younger fans had an enjoyable experience, the reality is that fans have been accused of chanting some truly vulgar things and that becomes harder to manage in a larger stadium. With a small Championship club like Burton Albion, whose stadium has a capacity of six and a half thousand, it would be a lot easier to regulate trouble than with somewhere like Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

I guess there’s no real way to tell if this scheme will work, other than through the testing of it over the next few weeks, and the games they bring. We’ll see soon enough if football fans are genetically engineered to be hooligans during the games, or if this Family Area plan will provide a much-needed safe space for families to enjoy the match day experience.

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