A Beautiful Law for the Beautiful Game? Revisiting the Football Offences Act 1991

Published date01 October 2021
Date01 October 2021
Subject MatterArticles
A Beautiful Law for the
Beautiful Game? Revisiting
the Football Offences
Act 1991
Geoff Pearson
The University of Manchester Law School, UK
This article revisits the operation of the Football (Offences) Act (FOA) 1991 30 years after its
enactment. FOA was introduced following recommendations of the Taylor Report 1990 as
part of a raft of measures looking to balance spectator safety against the threat of football
crowd disorder. Providing targeted and largely uncontroversial restrictions on football spec-
tators, and seemingly popular with police and clubs, FOA criminalises throwing missiles,
encroaching onto the pitch and engaging in indecent or ‘racialist’ chanting. It is argued here that
FOA has struggled to keep pace with developments in football spectator behaviour and
management, that it is increasingly used in a manner unanticipated by the legislators and that it
faces new challenges in enforcement as a result of developing human rights law. The FOA may
still provide a useful tool for football spectator management, but it needs substantial amend-
ment to remain relevant to the contemporary legal and football landscape.
Football, hooliganism, Taylor report, human rights, hate crime
It is 30 years since the Football (Offences) Act (FOA) 1991 came into force in England and Wales, when
the landscape of both football and criminal law looked very different. British football was recovering
from the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and English clubs were experiencing their first season back in
European competition after the five-year ban that followed the disorder and fatalities at the Heysel
stadium in Brussels. Large terraces with towering perimeter fences dominated stadia, and the elite clubs
played in the rarely televised Football League Division One. The Premier League, ‘police-free’ matches,
all-seater stadia, free movement of players and Video Assistant Referees were yet to be conceived. The
criminal law regime into which FOA slotted was also significantly different; most notably the Human
Corresponding author:
Geoff Pearson, The University of Manchester Law School, Manchester M13 9PL, UK.
Email: geoff.pearson@manchester.ac.uk
The Journal of Criminal Law
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00220183211007269
2021, Vol. 85(5) 362–374

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