FOR some people, football still carries the stigma of disorder and hooliganism dating back to the 1970s and 80s.

But football, like the world, is now a different place. Headlines might suggest that football has a culture of anti-social behaviour and violent conduct, however the work that has been done over the years, and continues to take place, ensures that football matches provide very safe entertainment.

According to Government statistics, in 2022/23 there were 13 arrests of Oxford United fans, only one of which was for violent disorder. Over the course of that season, over 193,000 fans came through the turnstiles, so the proportion of arrests was tiny. To give some context, there were 48 arrests at Reading Festival last summer, which had about 100,000 attending over the course of the five-day event.

The vast majority of arrests at Oxford United related to isolated incidents with individuals engaging in anti-social behaviours such as using discriminatory language, or being in possession of pyrotechnics.

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Our society in general, and football in particular, is rightly less tolerant of discriminatory behaviour. Campaigns such as Kick It Out, Her Game Too and Football v Homophobia work closely with football clubs to eliminate racism, sexism and homophobia at matches and online.

Oxford United takes a zero tolerance approach to these behaviours. For example, last season the club issued a fan with a banning order for several months after they posted a homophobic comment relating to the club on social media. The club is proactive with sanctions such as using Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs) to establish agreed behaviours so that the fan, and the public, can continue to enjoy watching football safely.

Oxford Mail:

Cases of violent or public disorder are extremely rare and will lead to a Football Banning Order and potentially a criminal record. This week, a man who had no previous history of attending our matches, was sentenced to a three-year football stadium ban and costs for alcohol-related offences at a match. He will not be allowed to attend any match, including International games, in future.

Liaison between clubs, use of CCTV and the presence of stewards and police arguably mean that if an offence is committed at a football match, there is a high chance of action being taken. Reporting mechanisms, such as Oxford United’s matchday text line, make it easy for supporters to report criminal or anti-social behaviour at the time it occurs.

Some fans feel that the measures in place are overkill in terms of managing the very few incidents. And they may have a point. But I would argue that these very measures allow our supporters, who are a well-behaved bunch, to enjoy the atmosphere and passion of a football match safely.