‘Irresponsible’: police chief questions plan to let football fans drink in stands

Sport

The UK’s football policing lead, chief constable Mark Roberts, says it would be “irresponsible to fuel” football’s problem with disorder by allowing alcohol to be consumed in the stands.

Tracey Crouch MP, a former sports minister, will recommend a pilot in League Two and the National League’s top division as part of her fan-led review of football governance, which is due to be published next month.

Drinking in sight of the pitch has been banned in the top five tiers of the game since 1985, although it is allowed at cricket, rugby, horse racing and darts. Roberts says adding alcohol would contribute to growing disorder in the sport and pointed to the scenes at the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

He said: “Unfortunately we have seen that alcohol often plays a significant part in violent and disorderly behaviour at football. Anyone who frequents the night-time economy will know that unfortunately the UK often has an unhealthy relationship with drink and drugs, and so whilst this isn’t a problem unique to football there is a clear correlation in and around football between alcohol and poor behaviour.

“Other sports simply don’t see the violence and criminal behaviour from their supporters that football does, albeit a minority, but we have seen growing concerns in cricket, horse racing and rugby around alcohol and behaviour which have led to some venues taking counter-measures.

“Since the Euro 2020 final and the return of fans to stadiums we have seen concerning levels of disorder at matches. Sadly this builds on disorder witnessed over recent seasons. In particular we have seen assaults on stewards and hate crime and it would be irresponsible to fuel this by allowing greater alcohol consumption during games.

“I would welcome contact from Tracey Crouch MP so we can discuss her views and again explain the challenges these proposed changes would bring to policing and safety staff at football. Given the events at Wembley – and anyone who saw the crowds outside the venue will know the role alcohol played – the current difficulties in sourcing sufficient numbers of trained stewards, the increase in disorder and the ongoing concerns about hate crime in football I am incredulous that anyone would suggest adding more alcohol into the mix.”

Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford in Kent, believes the current rules encourage binge-drinking and are part of the problem. “Our view on alcohol and football is outdated,” she told the Times. “It’s not helped when you see scenes like we did at Wembley. But that’s why I would pilot it first.”

She added: “We kettle people into drinking quickly at half-time. And that is the unhealthy aspect of the football fan’s relationship with alcohol. They drink a lot in a short space of time.”

Crouch explained that lifting the ban on alcohol could be key to helping secure the financial future of clubs lower down the leagues. Drinking is permitted in non-league football below the National League’s top tier, with the loss of revenue potentially affecting clubs who earn promotion.

“Take a club like Dulwich Hamlet, which is in National League South,” Crouch said. “Its revenue is generated through its refreshments. If it gets promoted to the National League Premier, it effectively stops generating that revenue during a game. They said openly in evidence to us that they cannot afford to get promoted because of the rules around alcohol.

“Lots of clubs generate a lot of their income through their bars and I think it’s time to look at this issue again. We do have this bizarre situation where you can go to Headingley and drink as a cricket fan, but go to Elland Road and you can’t drink as a football fan.”