Football in the UK has come a long way in the past twenty-five years. With the inception of the Premier League and the extraordinary amounts of money and marketing invested into the top end of the sport from the likes of Sky and BT, English football is today a shiny brand synonymous with modern stadia, eye-wateringly high salaries and the kind of glamour that was once the domain of the NFL in America.
Of course, for those old enough to remember this was not always the case. Not even remotely, in fact.
Head back to the 1970s and the early to mid-80s and the British footballing landscape was remarkably different. This was era dominated as much by events in the stands as on the pitch as the ugly spectre of hooliganism loomed large above the sport, threatening to consume it.
Hooliganism and football, it seemed, went hand in hand, making cities and public transport almost no-go zones on certain match days. It was an era made infamous for riots at Millwall or the organised mayhem on the trains and tubes in London, or the streets of Cardiff, Burnley or Bristol. International matches that would see travelling fans causing carnage abroad and then, on one horrific night in the Heysel Stadium of Brussels, the 1985 European Cup Final tainted by the sight of fighting fans and an archaic stadium which would result in the death of 39 people and the banning of English clubs entering European competitions.
Something needed to be done.
Among the measures that were introduced into football in the late 80s was the introduction of CCTV and similar security camera devices into football stadiums and surrounding areas. Whilst it didn’t resolve the problem of hooliganism entirely their introduction as a mode of surveillance and intelligence gathering did indeed make a difference to the powers of the police in targeting and prosecuting offenders. By the end of the decade CCTV was commonplace at football grounds across the country.
That’s not to say it wasn’t without controversy however.
When 96 fans lost their lives at the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 it was towards the fans where the blame, quite incorrectly, was aimed. Only in the inquests that would follow more than two decades later would the CCTV footage be unearthed, having seemingly gone missing after the event.
Nevertheless CCTV was here to stay and has been used as a staple measure of security in the new stadiums that emerged in the post-Hillsborough, SKY TV era.
Of course, we tend to think of the hooligan problem as that of a bygone time. Unfortunately however, beneath the glamour and glitzy packaging of the Premier League, there is still an undercurrent which remains and is a primary reason why the authorities still rely on security camera and CCTV footage when investigating, prosecuting and defending against any crowd disturbances.
Indeed, to this day the police and Crown Prosecution Service use not only public and stadium CCTV cameras in their investigations but will also use transport services and those at private premises in the area. So important is this in their investigations, in fact, that camera footage can be used as compelling and at times, irrefutable evidence which has led to many crowd disturbance convictions.
Football is certainly a safer, more family-friendly environment today than it to be considered almost extinct. CCTV has played its part in this safety in the grounds, alongside the introduction of better ticketing, nicer facilities and all-seater stadia. But troubles do still exist, usually these days away from grounds – but where and when these flare ups occur, it is generally in the view of a camera and the possibility that this involved are going to be seen.