Football Hooliganism: The Rise and Cost in the British Game

Football Hooliganism: The Rise and Cost in the British Game

For any parent and child, going to the football is a wonderful experience. It’s where memories are shared and passions are created that will last a lifetime. There’s a routine, which becomes indoctrinated in you from the moment you pass through the turnstiles for the very first time. It can change your life forever.

Then there’s the other side of football. The other life-changing experience, where you get arrested for fighting, pitch-encroaching or generally causing a nuisance. It can leave you banned from the club you love, sacked from your job and having a permanent criminal record attached to your name. And it’s on the rise…

Arrests in Football: The Tale of the Terraces

Anti-social behaviour has long been a part of football. English clubs were banned from playing in European competition during the latter stages of the 1980s, whilst there are reports of hooliganism occurring 100 years previous. 

In more recent years, on either side of the pandemic, it has reemerged, and as we approach the end of the 2021/22 season, it’s believed that it is rife once again, right across the Football League. 

The Landscape Today

Taking a look at this season alone, there has been a huge rise in the number of incidents. In the last six months, there have been over 180 articles published in the UK around “football hooliganism” and a total of 403 for “football violence”, mostly in regional press, and largely involving youngsters.

In 2013, The Guardian writer Sean Ingle wrote, “Hooliganism, which was once considered a cancer, is now more like a cold sore; an irritation that flares up every so often rather than something that people feared could be terminal.”

However, the fears are perhaps now well-founded. Whilst data has yet to be released by the Home Office, if you look at wider culture, there has been a shift towards the casual and football hooligan culture of yesteryear, on top of the reports within the media.

The Culture Around Football Hooliganism

The glamorisation of football hooligan culture and wider casual culture has clearly been on the rise, from associated fashion, music and an increase in violence, as seen through social media and in news reports.

Taking the fashion alone, from the beginning of the 2018/19 season to the present day (end of the 2021/22 season), there’s been a 130% increase in Google searches for “football hooligan clothes”, and when you drill down into some of the top brands, you’ll find a rise of 14.5% for “Stone Island”, 26% rise in searches for “C.P. Company” and an 80% rise in searches for the “Adidas Spezial” collection, all of which are prominent on the terraces.

Of course, not everyone wearing those items are “football hooligans”, but there is a clear correlation between that culture/fashion reemerging and the violence and anti-social behaviour at football matches. 

That strays further into drugs, which can not only have a direct impact on anti-social behaviour, but the safety of other matchgoers too. A study taken this season by The Sun found traces of cocaine at every stadium they tested, whilst the FA also unveiled it was one of the core reasons behind the chaos at the European Championship Finals in the summer. 

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who heads up football policing in England and Wales, told the newspaper, “As we see more violent incidents, cocaine is one of those factors along with alcohol that will make it worse, and make people more violent.”

Going back to 2017/18, around 38% of professional games reported some form of violence, whilst the season also saw over 500 reports of hate crime to charity Kick It Out and 127 police reports on the same matter.

The Rise in Police Costs

Not only is that putting a number of regular fans and families off, many of which are snubbing large stadiums for smaller, community-focused clubs, it’s also meaning more police are needed in local train stations, town centres and in and around the stadium. 

As a public service, this costs the taxpayer. Interestingly, the pandemic highlighted just how much police resources are taken up by anti-social behaviour at football. During the 2020/21 season, in which fans were allowed in Premier League stadiums for a small period in reduced numbers, not only were the number of arrests down (most clubs in the top flight recorded none, with only Aston Villa (2) and Wolves (3) revealing any), the cost of policing was too. 

At Elland Road, the cost of policing during the 2020/21 season was just £11,744. The first Leeds United home game this season saw £21,362 worth of policing, whilst the last full season in which spectators were at games in 2018/19 came at a cost of £107,383, that’s an average of around £4,700 per game. 

Leeds were in the Championship at that point. Merseyside Police spent almost £400,000 per season for Liverpool home games during that period, at around £20,000 per game. 

The clubs are under no obligation to contribute to this cost either, with them only required to pay for policing on their own grounds. Meaning much of that cost does fall on the taxpayer.

In total, a staggering £48million per year is spent on policing football matches, of which the police can claim back around £5.5million from clubs. That equates to around £4.60 per taxpayer in the UK, each year, policing football.

Of course, when that’s put into context, it’s small fry. At present, taxpayers pay £21.49billion on policing, working out at around £2,335 each if it was evenly distributed across all taxpayers, whilst the Royal Family costs the British people around £67million, meaning around £7.80 for each taxpayer.

However, for those that don’t like football, or those that understand the amount of money involved in the beautiful game, they may feel a little insulted. Whilst it’s integral to see policing in football currently, especially given the rise in arrests and anti-social behaviour at each fixture, football clubs in the top flight alone generate over £4.8billion in revenue each year, whilst agents receive around £211million per year from them. That’s a figure higher than two thirds of police forces’ annual budgets.

As the rise in football hooliganism and banning orders continues, and it will for as long as issues in wider society continue, there will be increased pressure on clubs to step up and contribute more to policing their fixtures, particularly given the economic climate.

What’s Next? Will This Continue to Rise?

Geoff Pearson, a senior lecturer of criminal law at Manchester Metropolitan University, believes that the two go hand in hand, with a post-pandemic rise in anti-social behaviour in wider society the largest contributor to the problem. And then combine that with the carnival atmosphere of football, along with the working week building up to that 90 minutes of leisurely relief, and you can get a recipe for heightened tension and conflict, especially when the game isn’t going your way.

Dr Martha Newson, who conducts research into social cohesion agreed, telling The Guardian, “There’s a seamless transition between football culture and the rest of society.”

“There’s no sort of lag. It’s just an instant mirror holding up what’s happened to society but amplified because of this ritual, high-affect state you’re in [as a fan]. There’s a massive amount of tension in the country at the moment so it comes out in football.”

That of course relates to the country’s position in the 1980s, when hooliganism was rife as the nation suffered economically. And it’s a trend that is going to continue, potentially changing the atmosphere of football in the UK once again, unless it’s treated as a serious issue.