Football must ‘press the reset button’, police say, as they crack down on the disorder after a season marked by rising violence.
As the new Premier League season begins, authorities are seeking to crack down on dangerous fan behavior by banning orders targeting cocaine users and powers to bar people from flares and fireworks.
Priti Patel said the Home Office had backed the police and Football Association response, extending football banning orders to target cocaine use and online abuse of players.
“Our football teams are the pride of our country, but thugs who cause violence and disorder at our matches are a national disgrace,” the Home Secretary added.
“There is no place for violence at football matches and we are clear that there should be a zero tolerance approach towards hooligans.”
PC Adam Collins, a Derbyshire Constabulary football officer, said The Independent that forces up and down the country had shared ideas and made internal preparations.
He said last season’s increase in unrest was not limited to just one region, or even England, with several countries across Europe reporting an increase in football-related violence following the coronavirus pandemic. Covid.
“We were in a really good place before Covid, everything was falling apart,” he added.
“I think a lot of that stems from the pandemic, people have been restricted and banned from football games for 18 months.”
Data released by the UK Football Policing Unit earlier this year showed there was a 36% increase in incidents of disorder reported in the first half of last season, compared to the same period in 2019 -2020.
Trouble was reported at almost half of all Premier League, English Football League and National League games, up from a third before the pandemic, and football-related arrests rose by 47% .
The Sports Grounds Safety Authority said there were also “significant crowd safety risks” linked to fireworks and the increasing number of pitch invasions, some of which have seen footballers attacked.
Reported problems across the country were exemplified by the chaos seen at Wembley during the men’s Euro final in July 2021, where a review found high levels of drug use had contributed to “unusually reckless behavior and aggressive.”
A report said the easing of Covid restrictions created a sense of “liberation”, as experienced stewards left their jobs during the pandemic and authorities were “rusty” after an unprecedented gap in matches.
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PC Collins said police would take a “more positive approach” to making arrests and pursuing football banning orders in the new season.
He said many forces had previously reduced their presence at matches deemed low risk due to a downward trend in incidents before the pandemic, and that the surge last year had taken them by surprise.
The officer attributes the change to a new generation of fans who were children before March 2020 but can now drink and attend games unsupervised, a lack of fan engagement and school programs during the pandemic, as well as to cocaine use.
“It was almost like a perfect storm and it took us all by surprise,” adds PC Collins. “There were scenes I had never seen before, there were games where fans were ripping up seats and throwing them at officers, one of my colleagues was knocked unconscious with an iron bar.”
He said football was a “mirror image of society” and stressed that the main problems were confined to men’s games, after a trouble-free Euro 2022 women’s tournament.
“We’re trying to hit the reset button, it’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about getting back to where we were before, and we will,” PC Collins said. “We are in a better place to start this season.”
The Football Supporters’ Association said it had received increasing reports of disorder, drug use and the use of pyrotechnics, and there appeared to have been a spike in incidents over the past year. a “fractured” post-pandemic season.
Social worker Amanda Jacks said: “We need to be clear that we cannot look at fan behavior in isolation.
“The drop in post-Covid policing and stewardship standards certainly contributed to the problems we saw.
“Football as an industry should recognize that it cannot ban or sue to get out of these current trends.”
Ms Jacks said there was no ‘quick and easy fix’ and that supporter groups needed to be involved in responding to anti-social and criminal behaviour.
Bob Eastwood, English Football League safety and security adviser, said: “It is important to remember that the vast majority of our games are uneventful, with the overwhelming majority of supporters supporting their team and respecting those around them.”
In May, the government announced an extension of football banning orders to supporters convicted of using cocaine at matches, and rules allowing passports to be seized when their teams play abroad.
The orders, imposed by the courts, could previously be imposed on people convicted of violence, disorder and hate crimes.
In July, the Premier League, EFL and Football Association announced separate measures to ban pitch invaders, drug addicts and people carrying pyrotechnics from stadiums.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said there needed to be “a strong response to a significant increase in fan behavior issues”.
He added: “We are making it clear that the type of incidents we saw last season must stop. Unless we take collective and sustained action, it may only be a matter of time before someone is seriously injured, or worse.