When people think of Stoke City fans, the word hooligan is not far off their tongue.
It’s an unfair stereotype for a club that has some of the most passionate supporters in the league.
These preconceived notions are part of the reason that football fans feel they are treated unfairly by police officers.
Though there are fewer arrests, some feel they are persecuted by a system that wants to sterilise their passion.
Adam Humza, a 35-year-old Potter from Biddulph, says that police officers are often guilty of painting every supporter with the same brush: “I can understand the difficulty of their job, you’re dealing with 30,000 people. They don’t know where the trouble’s going to come from.
“When you’ve got the rowdy fans mixing in with the families, it’s hard to separate them.
“But that only makes our experience as fans worse. I don’t want to be glared at by a police officer whilst I’m having a drink.
“There has to be a better way to deal with it.”
Professor Clifford Stott at Keele University may have just found that way.
He conceptualised a project called ‘Enable’ in early 2014 only a few months after the death of a Swedish Djurgården supporter from a violent incident.
In high-profile incidents like this, the response tends to be a great increase in security which is counter-productive.
The ‘Enable’ project encourages a science and dialogue-based response to football crowds.
It is a proven, democratic approach that makes the fans feel that they are being heard rather than just another faceless member of the crowd.
‘Enable’ prioritises a pleasant and entertaining match experience for the fans, as well as developing safety measures that protect supporters.
Professor Stott works with several police forces and football clubs over Europe, as well as founding the Keele Policing Academic Collaboration (KPAC) which focuses on uniting academics with policing partners all over the world.
Staffordshire Police regularly interact with Professor Stott and have embraced his methods into their policing.
Peter Aston, Dedicated football officer for Staffordshire Police says that Policing needs to be open to change to deal with the ever changing issues in our communities: “Engagement with supporters is part of how we develop new ways to deal with the issues we face.
“We have found that the positive engagement we strive to have with supporters arriving into Staffordshire over the last few years has proven to be most welcome by supporters.
“Sign posting away fans to premises where they can get a drink and food in a safe environment, arranging ‘bus transportation to and from the Stadium / Railway Station bare examples of this.
“Part of all our Football briefings to Police Officers is the Community focused nature of the event, and the very necessary differentiation between persons coming to enjoy a competitive sporting event and that very small minority that may or do involve themselves in poor behaviour.”
With arrests and incidents decreasing, it seems that the ‘Enable’ project is helping fans and police officers alike: “There is nothing wrong at all with being passionate in the support of your team, nor any harm in having an alcoholic drink as part of the experience.
“Everyone needs to maintain self-control, act in a responsible manner, and the vast majority of fans do exactly that.”
Staffordshire Police are clearly open to embracing new methods, and this bodes well for every football fan who is tired of being treated like a hooligan.