Toby Young Toby Young

Why have Newcastle United cancelled a fan for ‘wrongthink’?

Linzi Smith (Credit: Mark Pinder)

I don’t know what I’d do if QPR banned me from Loftus Road for the next two-and-a-half years. It was bad enough not being able to go to games during lockdown, but the thought of all my mates attending while I was stuck at home would be devastating. When the Rs are playing at home I look forward to the match all week – it’s become my only social activity that isn’t related to work, a vital safety valve. It would be devastating to my mental wellbeing.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happened to Linzi Smith, a 34-year-old Newcastle fan. On 31 October last year she was banned from St James’ Park for the remainder of this season and the next two. Why? Not for getting into a fight in the stadium or abusing a steward. No, Linzi’s ‘crime’ in the eyes of Newcastle United Football Club was to criticise the view that men who identify as women should be treated as if they were indistinguishable from biological women, including being able to access women’s changing rooms, and compete against women in sports like football and rugby.

Policing what football fans tweet about matters of ongoing public debate is an example of extraordinary overreach

Admittedly, being a Geordie, Linzi sometimes expresses herself in a raw, unvarnished way. For instance, she compared advocates of ‘affirmative’ medical procedures for trans-identifying children to Dr Mengele and described trans lobby groups with links to schools as ‘groomers’. Had she said these things to a trans employee of the football club in the stadium, or even to a trans fan at a game, she could – conceivably – be accused of harassment. But she didn’t. She simply said them on Twitter, the social media platform which originally described itself as ‘the free speech wing of the free speech party’.

When someone complained to NUFC about Linzi’s tweets, claiming they would make trans people at matches feel ‘unsafe’, the commonsense response would have been to politely tell the complainant that what fans say about the trans issue outside the stadium isn’t the club’s responsibility.

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