The proposed return of alcohol to the stands of English football stadia has been criticised by the sport’s police chief, who has claimed it would be more costly for clubs and deter families from attending games.
The overturning of English football’s long-held ban on fans drinking alcoholic beverages while watching games has been on the cards following the recommendations of former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review into the sport.
The independent review, announced by then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden in April 2021, sought to explore ways of improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of clubs in English football, building on the strengths of the football pyramid.
The Government in April backed plans to form an independent regulator for English football after endorsing the recommendations made last year as part of the Fan-Led Review of English Football Governance.
The alcohol ban has been in place since 1985, when the English game was beset by hooliganism, but the potential return was included as one of the recommendations from the Crouch report. However, speaking at a Parliamentary hearing into safety at major sporting events, Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary Mark Roberts, who serves as the national lead for football policing, voiced his strong opposition to changes in the current law.
Roberts said: “All you would effectively do if you move the prohibition is that people would still drink to excess outside (the stadium) but then arrive and carry on drinking. So you’d grant them 90 minutes extra time to drink more alcohol and cause us more problems.
“If the argument is that it’s financially beneficial for clubs, I don’t think it would be as you’d have that many problems you’d have to pay for more policing in stadiums to deal with the issues. You’d then have the issues of people throwing beer in the air, which you see it all the time at venues such as BOXPARK.
“If you’re there with the family and every time a goal goes in you get a lager shampoo it doesn’t make it conducive. I believe it’s a really dangerous argument to suggest that we should be bringing alcohol back.”
Pilot schemes have been previously talked of to permit drinking at clubs in the National League Premier and League Two, with a view to ending the restrictions across all divisions, a move said to be backed by Martyn Henderson, chief executive of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA).
Crouch has also stated her belief that lifting the ban on alcohol could help secure the financial future of clubs lower down the pyramid. With drinking permitted in non-league football below the National League Premier, those clubs that earn promotion can subsequently be hit with a significant revenue loss.
However, Roberts added: “I do disagree with Martyn and Tracey Crouch’s view on this. They (lower league stadia) won’t have access to stewards and won’t be able to pay for the levels of policing required.
“There isn’t normally CCTV, there isn’t (crowd) segregation. So you are pouring alcohol into a situation that’s more difficult to manage in any case. I think the benefit of a few extra pints will be massively outweighed through disorder and then they’ll have a policing bill.”