Arrests at football matches in England’s top five leagues are at their highest level in years, with fan disorder ‘worsening’, according to the head of UK football policing.
The latest data on the first half of this season – which has seen fans return to stadiums at capacity – follows Baroness Casey’s recent report on the violence of the Euro 2020 final, who discovered that “unticketed, drunk and drugged thugs” could have caused death as they stormed Wembley.
There were over 800 football-related arrests in the first six months of the season, along with over 750 reported incidents of disorder.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, head of Britain’s Football Policing Unit, said cases of anti-social behavior among young fans were a particular concern.
Roberts has previously expressed concern over the new safe standing ‘rail seats’ as well as a pilot project to enable drinking fans in view of the field.
He said increased levels of disorder are expected after a major tournament – but the current level of activity is “concerning”.
More problems, more arrests, fewer games – the key stats
- Data collected from 1 July to 31 December 2021 on English domestic competitions only and compared to the same six month period for the 2019-20 season – the last without pre-pandemic restrictions
- 802 football-related arrests so far this season – a 47% increase on 547 arrests in 2019-20 – the highest number of arrests since the UKFPU began collecting in the 2015 season – 16
- Disorder incidents reported in almost half (48%) of all Premier League, EFL and National League games – up from 34% in the 19-20 season
- There were 759 reported incidents including flares, missiles and hate crimes – up 36% from 560 in 19-20
- 210 incidents involved young supporters under the age of 25, compared to 154 in 19-20. The five-year average of incidents involving people under the age of 25 was 168
- This is despite fewer games this season (1,581) due to postponements, than in 19-20 (1,670)
- The largest increase in reported incidents of disorder is in the league and domestic league. Up 58% in the league and 56% in the national league compared to 2019-20
- Police presence in 66% of football matches in the English top 5 divisions, compared to 46% of matches in 19-20.
“Gaming culture is the biggest challenge”
Baroness Casey’s report from last month into the mass disorder at the Euro 2020 final described ‘drunk and drugged thugs’ responsible for a ‘national day of shame’ at Wembley on July 11, as the England lost to Italy.
In this report, Lady Casey called the ‘culture’ around disorder at football matches ‘the biggest challenge’ in tackling behaviour, recommending a campaign by the Football Association to force ‘a radical change in attitudes towards the behavior of the supporters”.
One fan of that match, ‘Tom’, told BBC Radio 5 live: “In our row there was a group of 10 mates, none of them had tickets, all were snorting cocaine. was very very dangerous.”
Testimony given to Baroness Casey’s report suggested that large amounts of drugs, particularly cocaine, were being taken. The report says 47% of the 7,000 ticket holders who took part in the review experienced illegal drug use upon arrival at Wembley, with stewards and security staff reporting a high level of drug use.
Lady Casey also said: ‘I think drugs are a much bigger issue than people have probably realised’ and called for a ‘national conversation about greater civility and responsibility’ that goes beyond football .
“Steve lives for football culture” – a fan’s account
Amanda Jacks of the Football Supporters Association recently posted the story of a “Steve” fan on social media as an example of some of the reported “football boy culture”:
“Steve lives for the culture of football, a culture that belongs to a lot of young men. A culture that involves friends, fashion, image, alcohol and cocaine and sometimes trouble. He tells me he not looking for trouble but also he will not run away either.
“He has already been convicted of a relatively minor offense and although he admitted that should have been a red flag, it was not enough to make him give up or moderate his lifestyle.
“When I asked him what was so appealing about this lifestyle, his response was immediate: it made him feel like a man, it allowed him to exercise a certain type of masculinity. He knew some would call this toxic masculinity.
“Despite making a lot of money, Steve isn’t interested in saving for his future. That’s not necessarily uncommon, but in Steve’s case, he doesn’t see convention or stability in his future.
“What I can’t help but think about is how someone so self-aware and insightful (at a relatively young age) can be so addicted – by their own admission – to a way of life which is unhealthy in many ways.
“[Steve] is only too aware of the very real potential that his choices might not end well for him…how sad that someone seemingly so intelligent is currently willing to give up his future in order to exercise some type of masculinity that he feels what it is to be a man.”
What are the reasons? – reaction
Professor Geoff Pearson, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester and considered one of the UK’s leading experts on football-related disorder, said the data would “anecdotally match what we’ve heard from football officials and supporters’ representatives”.
“It’s quite usual for us to see regional fluctuations, in terms of levels of violence and disorder in football, but I think the new stats are interesting because they tend to indicate maybe a national trend,” said Pearson told BBC Sport.
“There are a number of different reasons, some related to the behavior of the fans and some to the overall management of the game.
“In terms of the fans, it could be that we have a post-lockdown effect, that is to say that the fans did not have the opportunity to have this transgressive carnival behavior during the confinement and now they are basically let the hair go and engage in more of that rough and borderline criminal behavior.
“In terms of management too, we’ve had 18 months out of live football and that’s had an effect on policing because it means those opportunities to build relationships, engage in dialogue and identify the problem individuals just haven’t been there, and there’s a lot of knowledge that’s been lost and there will also be key personnel who will have moved on.”
Chief Constable Roberts said suggestions for changing alcohol consumption The laws of football – currently banned within sight of the pitch unlike rugby and other sports – were “crazy” and “irresponsible”, given the increase in disorder. However, Pearson thinks these laws need to be “rethought”.
He added: “Alcohol has always been a problem in terms of football attendance and unfortunately the legislation introduced in the 1980s was not effective in reducing alcohol consumption and in fact created problems. such as crushing in contests, late entry to the turnstiles and these are many of the hotspots where the messy incidents this season have taken place.”