Cocaine use appears to have been rife among those attending England’s opening European Championship qualifier at Wembley, according to a Sunday Telegraph investigation.
Traces of the class-A drug were found in around half of toilet cubicles tested by reporters after Friday night’s game, despite spectators being warned they faced “enhanced” security checks.
The revelation about the potential scale of cocaine use by England fans was last night branded “alarming” and there were calls for more to be done to combat it.
It follows high-profile pitch invasions in recent weeks that have provoked warnings by police chiefs that a surge in the use of the drug is fuelling hooliganism. Rioting by England supporters has marred the team’s recent matches in so-called stag-do destinations and senior officers fear further trouble at this summer’s Nations League finals in Portugal. That takes place a year before Wembley hosts seven matches at Euro 2020, including the semi-finals and final.
Using small wipes which turn blue on contact with cocaine, Telegraph reporters tested around 20 cubicles in two toilet areas at the stadium both before and after England’s 5-0 Group A win over the Czech Republic.
Our control test shortly after the turnstiles opened found traces of the drug on top of a tiny number of wall-mounted toilet-roll dispensers. But the second test after the ground had all but emptied found traces on almost half of the dispensers, and on several on which there had been none previously.
Reporters attending Friday night’s game did witness trouble in the stands, including a brawl between two fans in the end of the ground usually occupied by hardcore England supporters.
The Football Association last night confirmed five spectators had been denied entry to the game, including three who showed “positive drug indications”. The FA said there were no drug-related ejections or arrests out of a total of 24 and one, respectively.
John Newsham, a board member of the Football Safety Officers Association, told The Telegraph both the FA and Wembley security should be “alarmed” by the findings.
Clive Efford, Labour’s former shadow sports minister and current member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said: “It is alarming. I think the increased availability and cheaper price of cocaine on our streets is going to lead to more social unrest. This is not just fuelling problems at football matches. It is fuelling knife-crime as well.”
Malcolm Clarke, the chairman of the Football Supporters’ Federation and a member of the FA council, attended Friday’s game. He called for “dialogue” between the FA, FSOA and police “to talk in a constructive way about what the right level of response is”.
Dr Martha Newson, an Oxford University anthropologist who has studied violence and drug use among football fans, said cocaine use made for a “lethal combination” of heightened aggression and confidence.
The national lead for football policing in the UK, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, said arrests in which the drug was a factor had more than doubled from 32 in 2016-17 to 68 last season amid rises in disorder and hate crimes.
Figures for the current campaign are still being compiled but Roberts revealed there had already been one Championship match in which there had been 15 arrests for cocaine.
Just last month, two Everton fans were given cautions for possession of the drug after police raided two coaches heading for the Premier League game at Cardiff City.
After being alerted to the Telegraph findings, an FA spokesperson said: “Wembley Stadium has a strict illegal drug policy. Any person found in possession of illegal drugs will be refused entry or ejected from the stadium and will be reported to the police.
“We deploy 14 search dogs with trained handlers at every event, each accompanied by a response team of five Security Industry Authority officers. Everyone entering the stadium is also subject to security checks at the turnstiles. Incidents of anti-social behaviour are very rare, however we work closely with the authorities to take swift and decisive action when required.”
Roberts earlier told the Telegraph: “If people can smuggle pyrotechnics into the ground, they can smuggle drugs.”
He called for football to invest more in combating cocaine in the game – particularly Premier League clubs – saying police had recovered just £5.5 million of the £48 million it cost to deploy officers at matches last season.
That was echoed by Efford, who said: “There’s no question about it. Football is wealthy enough to be able to deal with this.”