The case of FSU member and passionate Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC) supporter Linzi Smith is gaining traction – the Telegraph broke the story, and it has since been picked up by GB News, iNews, the Mail (here, here and here), The Daily Caller and The European Conservative!
That’s hardly surprising. In the four years since the FSU was formed, we’ve come across some pretty appalling examples of private companies punishing their employers and their customers simply for exercising their right to lawful free speech. But this is the most egregious instance we’ve come across.
On 31 October last year, Linzi was banned from NUFC’s stadium, 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. Linzi’s ‘crime’ in the eyes of her hometown team – the club she’s passionate about and to whom she’s given tens of thousands of pounds over her lifetime? Criticising 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.
That part of the story is, in itself, bad enough. But what the FSU has also uncovered while providing Linzi with support and assistance is an investigation unit embedded in the Premier League. The way it operates is secretive, and its remit is unclear, but one of its jobs appears to be prying into football fans social media, checking their accounts, and then determining if they’ve engaged in wrongthink.
In Linzi’s case, NUFC reached out to the Premier League to help investigate her and the League then tasked its spy unit with compiling a dossier on her, which it then handed over to the club. At that point, NUFC took the decision to ban her from attending games for the rest of this season and for the next two.
You can watch FSU General Secretary Toby Young’s interview with Linzi below.
We can understand a football club wanting to exclude a fan who’d engaged in online abuse of players or officials, particularly racist abuse.
But that’s not what happened here.
At no stage was Linzi charged by the police with committing an offence, and Northumbria Police, having interviewed her after her supposedly ‘transphobic’ remarks were reported to them, decided that no action needed to be taken.
With the FSU’s help, Linzi appealed the ban, pointing out that the club appears to have ignored its obligations as a service provider not to discriminate against her based on her gender critical beliefs, which constitute protected philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act 2010. Alas, it was to no avail, as the appeal panel – consisting of the club’s Head of Safeguarding, Head of Supporter Services, and Commercial Venue Director – upheld its original decision and concluded that the sanction was “appropriate”.
One of the most shocking aspects of Linzi’s case is that when the club responded to her appeal it sent her a cache of documents that included a report that had been compiled by the Premier League’s very own intelligence unit.
It appears that, as part of the evidence against Linzi, NUFC considered a raft of personal information compiled by this unit.
What emerges from this concerning report is evidence of considerable surveillance, intended to prove that Linzi, the NUFC supporter, was the owner of the X account from which the ‘offensive’ X posts were sent.
Chillingly, the report refers to Linzi as the “target”.
Attempts were made to find out where she lived. Google images were used to assess photos on her X timeline, and identify her precise location. Photos were downloaded in which she can be seen walking her dog in a park near to where she lives. The fact that she has “ties” to nearby Whitley Bay was also noted.
We think the fact that the Premier League compiled and passed on this detailed personal information about Linzi to NUFC is a flagrant breach of GDPR – and with our help she’s now submitted a complaint to the information regulator, the ICO. Linzi is also currently taking advice on her legal options.
We fear that what happened to Linzi isn’t some one-off aberration, but constitutes part of a wider trend. Nearly two years ago, in March 2022, the Premier League itself admitted it had carried out 400 investigations.
Unlikely as it may sound, our national game has suddenly become the battleground in the latest fight to defend free speech.
That’s why we’re asking for your support.
If you’re a fan of a Premier League team, and you’ve ever expressed perfectly lawful but ‘unfashionable’ views on social media in the past, on this subject or any other, please go to our website and use our new, automatic form to submit a subject access request, both to your Premier League club and to the Premier League itself.
If you find out they have been keeping tabs on your political views, let us know and it will help us put a stop to this flagrant interference in free speech.
Linzi joined Nigel Farage on his GB News show recently to discuss her shocking case. You can watch a clip below.
Linzi was also Julia Hartley-Brewer’s guest on Talk TV on 7th February.