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Alcohol inside football grounds proposed

A trial of alcohol allowed on the terraces is among the proposals in the 162-page ‘Fan-Led Review of Football Governance‘.

A ‘small scale, limited’ trial is proposed for the fourth and fifth tiers of English football, League Two and the National League.

A club should have a board, that should appoint a director as its lead in ‘Welfare, Safety and Safeguarding’, ‘to ensure appropriate prioritisation and focus on the welfare and safety of the club’s players, staff and match day fans’. The document places stress on equality, diversity and inclusion (‘EDI’) objectives and standards that, the report says, ‘clubs should be meeting as part of their licensing conditions’. The document proposes ‘to make football grounds places where LGBTQ+ fans feel a sense of safety and belonging’.

Safety and security is to the fore in the part of the review that covers alcohol inside stadia. In evidence to the Review, Dulwich Hamlet, the London club playing in the National League South, ‘highlighted how the successful running of a bar contributed significant income to the club. However, if promoted to the National League, the club would be compelled to discontinue such commercial activity because of alcohol restrictions’, according to a 1985 law. The review took evidence from the licensing body the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) that ‘the current regulations on sale of alcohol caused some safety issues. In particular, the current legislative approach meant that stadium concourses are crowded with spectators using the short half time window to purchase alcoholic drinks. This crowding could be eased if alcohol was available throughout’.

As for reform – that would take a change to the law – ‘the SGSA said they would be supportive of any piloting of alcohol sales at National League level, but recognised that there would be significant push back from the police on pilots’.

The review pointed to an end to the total ban, that covers England and Wales (Scotland is not mentioned in the review, though it has similar restrictions); or at least a review if it is still ‘fit for purpose’. Football supporter groups and leagues brand the alcohol legislation as outdated, and paternalistic; leagues pointed to the missed income. Police are not for the total ban either, as some matches would not have a high risk of disorder, drinking or not. Police would rather have strictly controlled (and high priced) drinking of alcohol inside grounds, instead of harder to police, dispersed drinking outside. Writing in a personal capacity in the recent edition of Policing Insight, Owen West, former Chief Superintendent, crowd policing specialist, and Senior Lecturer in Policing, Law and Criminology at Edge Hill University, stated that the policing narrative on the sale of alcohol in sight of the pitch is “unevidenced”.

As the review adds, alcohol bans, on so called ‘dry trains’ or at the stadium, only tends to lead to ‘pre-loading’ or excessive consumption before the game (just as night-clubbers and pub-goers may ‘pre-load’ before a night out at venues).

As for disorder among football supporters, while the review notes falls in numbers of arrests, as anyone in stadium safety (and private security and the night-time economy generally) can tell you, police arrests are not the same thing as actual problems of anti-social behaviour and incidents of disorder. (As was shown days later in the Europa League match when Leicester City hosted Legia Warsaw; 12 police were injured, seven arrests made and what Leicestershire Police could only term ‘a large number’ of travelling fans ejected.) In any case, the review does note ‘significant arrests in response to the disorder at this summer’s Euro 2020 final between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium. The FA has commissioned an independent review into the trouble both before and after the game, chaired by Baroness Casey of Blackstock’.

The report was mainly aimed at ‘the structural challenges facing English club football’, notably financial. A suggested new Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) ‘would not operate in areas of traditional sports regulation which will be left to the existing authorities’ – such as the SGSA. As for governance, highly topical because of foreign owners of Premier League clubs, the review speaks of ‘an enhanced due diligence check on source of funds will be designed and developed by IREF with relevant stakeholders including the Home Office and National Crime Agency. The test should include banking checks and ensuring the individual(s) have no links to money laundering or other criminality’.

For the final report of the review – after an interim report in the summer – visit the DCMS website (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport). See also a statement to Parliament by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

Meanwhile, Cardiff City FC, Chelsea FC, Manchester City FC, Manchester United FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC will be the first clubs to have licensed ‘safe standing’ in seated areas from January 1; a change from the seated-only rule for the top two divisions in English football, as brought in after the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. The SGSA says that it’s taking a ‘careful, evidence-based approach to this historic change’. Among the requirements, CCTV must fully cover the licensed standing areas.

Photo by Mark Rowe: St James’ Park, Newcastle FC.


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