The recently published statistics on football banning orders passed without comment from The Scratching Shed because we felt there was a much bigger issue than Leeds United coming out ‘top’, and wanted to question the Home Office first.

The primary concern was that the league table format in which these statistics are published will always be spun negatively by the press and be used as nothing more than rankings for the more unsavoury element amongst our fans. A football hooligans league table if you will.

For me personally, I feel that the press coverage of these statistics further adds to the negative stereotype of Leeds United fans. It creates an immediate atmosphere of expected trouble whenever we visit away grounds, which in turn, can lead to a less than welcoming reception for the travelling support. It’s difficult for a club to change perceptions when Government statistics help the national media to single your club out for criticism.

We put it to the Home Office that the statistics should not list banning orders by how many each individual club receives, but should instead focus on the positives and list all the leagues as a whole. Overall, trouble at football grounds has decreased year-on-year, but very few newspapers will pick up on this statistic when they see an easy headline in ‘Dirty Leeds have the worst fans in football’

Here’s the Home Office’s response;

Thank you for your e-mail of 2 December about the recently published Football Banning Order statistics. I have been asked to reply.

The Home Office publishes these statistics annually. Football-related arrest statistics are compiled by police football intelligence officers’ returns for every regulated football match in England and Wales. Football banning order statistics are provided by the Football Banning Orders Authority, the statutory body that administers football banning orders

We do not prepare league tables to show the “worst hooligans”. Such tables are created by the media. Regional media may use the published data to construct a story with local flavour. You cite coverage in the Yorkshire Evening Post that highlights supporters of Leeds United being subject to the highest number of extant football banning orders. This is one piece of information chosen from 13 tables of statistical information. Banning orders last a minimum of 3 years (the majority of bans are for 3 years, 5 years is the maximum duration if a custodial sentence is not imposed, if a custodial sentence is imposed the duration of the order must be 6 to 10 years) accordingly data in this table changes when new bans are imposed and existing bans expire. The journalist could have used information from 2009/10 season showing that Leeds United supporters were made subject to the 7th highest number of football banning orders or the 13th highest number of football-arrests in that period.

We publish the data, but we cannot dictate the story. The statistics and commentary is presented data without reference to particular clubs. Our editorial input is to draw attention to key points through the statistical highlights page. Home Office Minister James Brokenshire MP made a more discursive statement issued by way of a press release. Additionally, the Minister was available to national and regional media on the day of release.

Home Office has published information in a similar format to the 2009/10 season statistics since we took over the role from the National Criminal Intelligence Service for 2001/02 season. The information is collated to show absolutes, trends and to aid policy development. It is shared with a range of stakeholders; football authorities, police and other partners in the criminal justice system. It has always been made publicly available, and we regularly receive requests for historic information from academics and students.

One reason comprehensive data is published annually is that were it not, we would receive numerous ad-hoc requests for similar data in various formats from Parliament, press and members of the public. This would inevitably lead to less useful information, in various formats making comparison difficult, and take longer to prepare. The established publication regime, with refinements to the information provided, has stood the test of time and seemingly satisfies users.

A key theme of the Government’s football disorder strategy is that supporters should be treated on the basis of their behaviour, not their reputation. This is stressed by officials and police when security and safety arrangements with overseas host authorities and police, and at European fora. This ethos is supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers domestically. The police football intelligence network facilitates police planning, assisting the process of match-by-match dynamic risk assessment and setting of the policing strategy. This is based on up-to-date police intelligence, not on historic statistics.

I appreciate your concern that football disorder tends to be glamourised in the media, and that behaviour can be influenced accordingly. In years when the number of football-related arrests has increased there has been more interest in the statistics release. However, football disorder has decreased significantly since the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s. There are many factors behind this and great credit must go to the fans. Self-policing is the best policing, and supporters can do their bit by marginalising troublemakers and unacceptable behaviour.

Firstly, we thank the Home Office for taking time to respond. Whilst we appreciate that such statistics could be requested anyway, and that this method saves time, we’re still not convinced that individually listing clubs is the best method.

Academics may well use the statistics for comparison, and require some geographical frame of reference, but it would be just as easy to list counties as it would football clubs, thus removing the inevitable spin from the media.

We have yet to reply to this letter as we would like to get your thoughts first. Do you think Leeds United are subjected to worse treatment than other clubs when travelling away? And do you agree that these statistics could be reported in a less individual manner?

You can comment below, or email The Scratching Shed using the online form.