Five-point plan to solve football’s crowd crisis
By Ben Rumsby
More sniffer dogs
Nobody disputes a link between the rise in disorder in football and an increase in cocaine use in wider society, the most high-profile evidence of which emerged during last summer’s European Championship final. Increasing sniffer dog numbers is already taking place as a result, and should also help clubs stop an increase in pyrotechnics being smuggled into grounds.
A chief executive of one Championship club which has already introduced drug-detection dogs told The Telegraph: “No one wants to see children experiencing people taking cocaine in toilets, which is what’s happening but it is happening up and down the country.”
Revealing such dogs cost about £1,000 a game to deploy, he added: “If you do it properly, you don’t need them every match. You just need to know that they might be there.” Malcolm Clarke, the chairman of the Football Supporters’ Association, said he did not think most fans would object in “any way” to an increase in the use of sniffer dogs.
Owen West, a retired chief superintendent and specialist in crowd policing, said it could work as a “short-term measure.” But Dr Martha Newson, an expert in football fan behavior from Oxford University, cast doubt on the effectiveness of sniffer dogs in “curbing” disorder.
Centralized banning system
Leeds have vowed to hand lifetime bans to fans found to have thrown missiles at Manchester United players on Sunday. There is cautious support in both the Championship and Premier League to discuss punishments becoming centralized and game-wide, as is now done after racism offences.
Speaking prior to the incident at Elland Road, Christian Purslow, the chief executive of Aston Villa, said blanket bans are “difficult to administer but not an unreasonable idea”. Clarke, however, questioned whether increasing any sanctions would help.
“If somebody’s high on cocaine and does something on the spur of the moment when they get angry with the referee or something, I don’t think that they think through the size of the deterrent at all,” he said.
West said increased sanctions would have “little to no effect”, while Newson said that while she could see why the police would want to “come down hard with football banning orders” in response to the current crisis, she said she would like to see clubs offer offenders a way back into the fold. “It’s something like, ‘You have to come in and do this course if you want to be allowed back in the stadium’.”
Improve fan engagement
An imminent EFL campaign via social media and in newspapers is expected to be broadly in line with one launched last month by Millwall, called ‘Don’t be a Tosser’ after Crystal Palace’s Michael Olise was hit on the head by a bottle in their FA Cup third-round tie last month.
There was a broad consensus among those spoken to by the Telegraph that much of the recent disorder had been caused by teenagers whose development had been interrupted by various Covid-19 lockdowns. Clarke said: “Is there a case for saying, ‘Well, are there projects that the community units at top clubs could get involved in to try to look at the causes and address the causes of this behavior particularly among the kids?’
Trial new ways of policing matches
Clarke said the pandemic had also witnessed the loss of “a lot of good-quality stewards” and “experienced coppers and match commanders”, with relationships between fans and those who police them having been “severed”. West said it was time for a radical rethink of football policing to identify potential flashpoints before they arise.
“The intelligence around threat and risk is so poor because there isn’t a good relationship between the police and fans,” he said, calling for the adoption of the kind of “protest policing” brought in following the death of Ian Tomlinson during the 2009 G-20 summit protests in London.
“The evidence points to the use of that type of specialist officer who has good engagement, good rapport-building skills, that is really good at de-conflicting and de-escalating within a crowd and being proactive in order to do that.”
Trial scrapping alcohol ban
It may be completely counterintuitive but there was broad agreement that allowing spectators to drink in view of the pitch – a trial of which was proposed in the Government’s fan-led review of English football – may actually reduce disorder.
The Championship chief executive said such a measure would stop fans “downing 10 pints of lager as quickly as they can, taking a line of cocaine”, while Clarke said banning drinking in seats simply encouraged large groups to loiter on concourses.