Cocaine use at matches is one of the factors behind a surge in crowd trouble and should be punished by a ban from all games, Britain’s head of football policing said on Monday.
The Football Association has launched a series of investigations into incidents this past weekend which follow a trend in increased fan violence since Euro 2020 and Chief Constable Mark Roberts now wants police banning orders extended to include drug as well as alcohol-fuelled disorder.
New figures show that football-related arrests have risen over the first half of this season by almost 50% to 802, but there have also been a further 99 arrests for what are not deemed ‘Schedule One” offences, of which the vast majority were either cocaine or drug related.
Drug use was specifically highlighted following the shameful disorder at the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy, with the FA-commissioned Casey report finding that "ticketless, drunken and drugged-up thugs" could have caused death after they stormed Wembley Stadium.
“There are more incidents this year,” said Roberts, who leads the UK's Football Policing Unit. “It is really worrying. We are lobbying government - they are obviously amending relevant legislation to ensure that people can get a banning order for a hate crime online - and we would like to see it that you can also get a banning order for cocaine use or Class A drugs.
“People who are experienced, who work in football, and probably a lot of fans, know that cocaine use is very common at football. Cocaine use does fuel violence. We see it in the night-time economy; we see it in football.
“Every experienced football commander would tell you that there have been issues with cocaine use for a long time.”
A football banning order lasts for between 10 and three years and Roberts says that, although there has been an increase in arrests this season, this has not being translated into banning orders. Individual reports of disorder are understood to have passed 1,400 following the weekend matches, with increases across offences relating to pyrotechnics, alcohol, thrown missiles, pitch encroachment and hate crime.
This is all despite slightly fewer games across the Premier League, the EFL and and the National League during the most recent comparative reporting period in the 2019-20 season.
“This will require a collective effort - not to wag fingers - [but] to recognise that there is a problem that needs a team effort from everyone to get people who don't behave kicked out of football,” said Roberts.
He also said that the police were not consulted over the Government’s fan-led football review and stressed that it was the wrong time to bring back alcohol. One of the review’s proposals, which was overseen by former sports minister Tracey Crouch, was a pilot scheme to allow alcohol during League Two and National League matches.
“Disorder in League Two is up by 33 per cent and the National League by 56 per cent,” said Roberts. “It does beg the question, what evidence base is there to do this? Anyone with any experience of public order policing, football policing, or the night-time economy knows that there is a clear nexus between alcohol and bad behaviour.”
Premier League clubs are also facing pressure from security chiefs to increase spending on policing inside stadiums following an exodus of experienced stewards.
Warnings of the burden on lowly-paid stadium stewards were raised after the disorder at Premier League grounds this weekend but also how Cardiff City fans trashed the away toilets at Bristol City.
Rowland Stone, whose firm Tyler Security now works with several top-tier clubs, told Telegraph Sport of an urgency to tackle "a deterioration of public order resources within grounds".
Disjointed relations between police and football authorities were one of the main failures cited by Baroness Casey in her review of fan disorder for the Euro 2020 final.
"The reduction of policing inside grounds hasn't helped at all," said Stone, an ex-Met Police dog handling boss. Legislation means clubs are only expected to pay a fee for policing inside the stadium and on their land and, as a result, Stone has seen clubs become increasingly reliant on their own staff.
"The stewards' powers are very, very limited, other than ejection," he added. "As we all saw at Wembley, the stewards have got no powers to retain or restrain. They're probably £9-an-hour, if they're lucky. Why would they want to get beaten up?"
Police have repeatedly called on clubs to foot a greater proportion of policing bills around stadiums. In London, clubs paid less than four per cent of the £8m it took to police football matches in the capital for the season prior to the pandemic.
"I'm not saying everything is at fault, but the whole thing generally as a package has deteriorated because we don't have the police presence in grounds," said Stone.
Professor Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, added: "We have to be careful about encouraging copycat behaviour, but I think the whole country has been under an enormous amount of stress for two years now... so I'm not surprised that there are problems of disorder.
"There is always a temptation at times of trouble to to rely on the drugs of solace. So I'm not surprised that people have to some degree turned to drugs or are taking more drugs."
Fan disorder is on the increase across the land – and here are the reasons why
By Jeremy Wilson
For Tracy Brown, a Chelsea fan, the feeling that football stadiums have become angrier and more abusive places since the end of lockdown is now unmistakable. “It’s like people have come back to football and are letting all their frustrations out,” she says. “And it is all forms of abuse – it is very worrying.”
Brown is the chair of Chelsea Pride and has been successfully working with the Football Association to convince the Crown Prosecution Service that the persistent “rent boy” chant, which has been aimed all season at various Chelsea players, is now recognised as a homophobic hate crime. Stamford Bridge was separately also the scene on Sunday of Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger being struck by cigarette lighters. Two men were arrested.
There were also arrests at the match between West Ham United and Manchester United, including one on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker, and a teenager has been charged with assault after two Aston Villa players were hit by a bottle during Everton’s 1-0 defeat.
A bad weekend; or an increasingly worrying regression? The statistics certainly suggest the latter and bear out the wider anecdotal testimony.
There have been 802 football related arrests so far this season across the top five divisions in English football – a near 50 per cent increase since the most recent pre-lockdown figure in 2019/20. It is also the highest number of arrests since figures began being collated in 2015/16, with a particular rise among younger fans, and tallies with a comparable increase in reports of disorder.
Lockdown, it would seem, has shifted the goalposts, although not simply by potentially fostering greater pent-up anger and division. According to Prof Geoff Pearson, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Manchester, the abrupt 18 month break in football crowds was also the inevitable catalyst for important changes in both the make-up of fans and those paid to uphold public order.
“I’m hearing the same things from police, fan representatives and those working in stadium security,” said Prof Pearson. “There has been an uptick in problematic behaviour – a great undercurrent of which tends to be more antisocial behaviour and low level disorder rather than organised fighting.
“I think at the start of the season there was a little giddy excitement about being at football stadiums, being in pubs and being back with friends. We also had quite a big turnover of fans. “The fan profiles look quite different to the start of 2020. We’ve not had a situation since the Second World War when those who really want to go to the football, can’t. Then, suddenly they are all let back in. In addition, you have tens of thousands of match-day fans no longer able to go, because of Covid, or one reason or another. There will have been a massive churn. A lot of those coming in will be irregular fans.
“They are not necessarily going to be as deterred from certain behaviours as fans who have been going week in and week out. Incidents like the bottle throwing and running on pitches are not things that regular season-ticket holders do because they will lose their season-ticket and get a banning order.”
The influence of social media is another intriguing strand. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Twitter might forge valuable connections but they can also foster conflict and episodes of one-upmanship.
Fans now are frequently the stars of their own show and the value of some piece of content is often framed by how often it is shared. It is the subject of limited research, especially in a football context, although a pre-lockdown study by Durham University did find a correlation among young adults between exposure to content depicting ‘risky online behaviour’ and users’ own such behaviour. This specifically included episodes in relation to drink, drugs, violence and pranks.
The use and accessibility of cocaine has also been highlighted following Baroness Casey’s report into the shameful disorder involving England fans at the Euro 2020 final. She specifically also urged the Football Association to launch a campaign to force "a sea-change in attitudes towards supporter behaviours".
Prof Pearson, however, notes that the proliferation of social media and increased cocaine use in football, “as elsewhere in society”, previously coincided with declines in football arrests. He believes that another key point is how the break in crowds impacted upon policing and stewarding. “We have had 18 months of no football intelligence going into police forces,” he said. “When there is a group [of fans], the police officers don’t necessarily know any more whether they are at risk.
“The fact we have not had the opportunity for that relationship building and that dialogue, which is so valuable for good policing operations, makes it so much more difficult for the police.
“Every club has also reported that they have lost good stewarding staff over lockdown. They have gone into other jobs and they can’t get them back. Stewards who had been stood there for 10 years are suddenly gone and potentially replaced by someone who has never been to a football match trying to manage a particular section. We may need to think about how we deal with stewarding at football generally. There is a nationwide problem.”
Disorder this season is not just confined to England. A wave of violence in France prompted France’s minister of sport, Roxana Maracineanu, to say that: “Every time I go to a stadium I tell myself it’s a good thing I got my son into rugby rather than football.”
It had followed the cancellation of a match between Marseille and Lyon after Dimitri Payet was hit in the head by a bottle. Fans of Montpellier also bombarded Marseille fans with missiles and ambushed a bus carrying Bordeaux fans.
Jermaine Jenas, working at the weekend for BT Sport, warned of a return “to the Dark Ages” after seeing the ugly scenes involving Manchester City fans at Southampton. “I don’t think we are in a tailspin down towards the bad days of the 1980s,” says Prof Pearson. “If I was going to speculate, I would say that this is an uptick post lockdown and it will settle. Fans will learn how to behave or they will be excluded. The good [police] forces will rebuild those relationships. It is actually not surprising given everything that has happened and probably we should have seen it coming.”