British football hit by cocaine surge with senior police officers blaming drug for rise in violence at stadiums
- Police officers believe a rise in cocaine use is fuelling disorder at football games
- One force made 15 arrests for possession at a recent match in the Championship
- A steward’s nose was broken during one of three pitch invasions at the weekend
- There’s been a 10 per cent rise in drug-related arrests at grounds in the past year
An alarming rise in cocaine use at football stadiums is fuelling growing levels of disorder, senior police officers have told Sportsmail.
In another weekend of violence, a steward’s nose was broken during one of three pitch invasions. Police figures reveal a 10 per cent increase in drug-related arrests at grounds in the past year, including a doubling of arrests for cocaine possession — from 32 to 68. But police believe these figures grossly understate the true picture.
Swabs taken by police in club toilets reveal increased evidence of cocaine-taking. One force made 15 arrests for possession of the drug at a recent Championship game.
Senior police officers believe a rise in cocaine use is fuelling disorder at football matches
But senior officers say the cocaine scourge — which reflects rising use of the drug in society — is virtually impossible to deal with because of the clubs’ determination to replace police with stewards and security firms to cut costs. Many stewards do not even have powers to search fans who are a threat to public order.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council football policing lead, told Sportsmail on Monday that cocaine was a major concern.
He said: ‘We believe it is linked to a rise in disorder at grounds. It is a significant factor.’
Roberts disclosed that a study of the 43 British police forces has revealed the total cost of policing football last year was £48.5million. Yet the total amount of that cost recovered by forces was a mere £5.5m.
Police want clubs to examine contributing to costs of policing beyond the precincts of grounds and possibly commit to some form of direct funding for police. The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) on Monday called for a change in the law to allow forces to recover more costs for policing games.
Roberts said: ‘Football can’t just pick and choose the bits that look sweet for it. It wants its stadiums to be shiny and pristine but on the outside police are left to pick up the pieces. The cocaine problem is very much a part of that. Policing it and deterring it requires professional expertise.’
Many clubs prefer to use security firms and stewards instead of police as they are cheaper
His comments followed another dire weekend for the game’s reputation. A week after Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was attacked by a fan, there were a further three pitch invasions, one of which left a female steward with a suspected broken nose.
The steward received treatment from paramedics at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium after being injured when a group of Newcastle fans entered the playing area to celebrate Matt Ritchie’s late equaliser.
Dorset Police have arrested seven fans, including a 14-year-old boy. Newcastle said on Monday that they were working with police and fans and would ‘review… individual cases before determining if any further club-related punishment is appropriate’.
The FA will write to both clubs to seek their observations on the incident, having studied referee Mike Dean’s report. They will also write to West Ham and Swansea City after fans entered the playing areas at the London Stadium and the Liberty Stadium.
As police have vanished from grounds, disorder has made a significant return — with incidents up by 45 per cent over the past two seasons. New police figures suggest that cases of serious disorder at games rose from 70 to 87 last year, with 38 per cent of all fixtures reporting some form or violence or disorder.
There was a pitch invasion during Saturday’s match between Bournemouth and Newcastle
There has also been a 14 per cent increase in breaches of segregation — up from 105 to 120 — while hate crime is up a huge 67 per cent.
APCC’s football policing lead, Tim Passmore, called for a change in the law to allow forces to recover the full costs of policing football matches.
He said: ‘It doesn’t seem reasonable to me that the public should effectively be paying for this additional policing to support a commercial enterprise.
‘This applies to the extra costs incurred for policing around stadium and in public spaces surrounding the stadiums. Without a change in the law these costs cannot be recovered unless these is a local, voluntary agreement.
‘Police and Crime Commissioners are working as an association with the Home Office to come up with a satisfactory solution.’
NUMBERS THAT SHAME FOOTBALL
38% Increase in violence and disorder between 2016-17 and 2017-18.
591 Arrests at Championship matches last season, a 22 per cent increase.
14% Increase in breaches of segregation last year, from 105 in 2016-17 to 120 in 2017-18.
409 Incidents of pyrotechnic devices being thrown last year in English football. An increase from 339 the previous season.
67% Police reports say incidents of racism at football grew a massive 67 per cent last season.
Fans are seen fighting before an FA Cup match between Millwall and Everton in January