Trouble on the terraces: English football fan disorder ‘getting worse’

Arrests at matches in England are at their highest levels in years

Aston Villa’s Matty Cash and Lucas Digne were struck by a bottle at Goodison Park
Aston Villa’s Matty Cash and Lucas Digne were struck by a bottle at Goodison Park
(Image credit: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)

Another weekend of Premier League football and another weekend of major talking points. It’s not the action on the pitch that’s been making the headlines, however, but incidents in the stands.

A man has been charged by Merseyside Police after Aston Villa players Lucas Digne and Matty Cash were both struck by a bottle during their 1-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, Sky Sports reported. On the same day at Old Trafford in Manchester, there were four arrests made after disorder in the West Ham section. Then on Sunday two men were arrested after objects were thrown at Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger from the Tottenham away end at Stamford Bridge.

A bad weekend or an “increasingly worrying regression?”, The Telegraph asked. “The statistics would certainly appear to suggest the latter bear out the wider anecdotal testimony.”

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‘More trouble, more arrests’

According to the UK Football Policing Unit, fan disorder is “getting worse” and there is “more trouble” and “more arrests”, the BBC reported. Data from 1 July to 31 December 2021 revealed that arrests made at matches across the top five leagues in English football are at their highest levels in years.

Since fans returned to capacity stadiums, there have been 802 football-related arrests so far this season – this is an increase in 47% from 547 arrests in 2019-20. There have also been 759 reported incidents of disorder – including flares, missiles and hate crime – a 36% increase from the 2019-20 season.

Disorder incidents have been reported at almost half (48%) of all games across the Premier League, English Football League (EFL) and the National League. Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ lead for football policing, said cases of anti-social behaviour among younger fans is a particular area of concern.

Lockdown, it would seem, has certainly “shifted the goalposts”, the Telegraph said, although not simply by “potentially fostering greater anger and division”.

‘National shame’

The UK Football Policing Unit data will bring more concern to English football after the ugly scenes at last summer’s Euro 2020 final. An independent review issued last month by Baroness Casey of Blackstock described “drunken and drugged up thugs” being responsible for “a day of national shame” at Wembley on 11 July, the BBC reported.

Casey said the “culture” around disorder at football matches was “the biggest challenge” in tackling behaviour. She recommended a Football Association campaign to force “a sea-change in attitudes towards supporter behaviours”.

In light of the Euro 2020 final review, which indicated that excessive alcohol and drug misuse contributed to some of the disorder, Chief Constable Roberts hopes that the damning report “kills” recommendations to allow fans to drink alcohol at their seats inside stadiums.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, he said “we do not need more alcohol in football” and there is a discussion to be had as to “what we deem to be unacceptable behaviour”. He added: “We cannot pass things off as ‘laddish behaviour’ and the way we are going to have to tackle that is by the fans as well saying it is unacceptable.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.