Football police chief Mark Roberts urges fans to report disorder as cases rise

Arsenal v Chelsea – Emirates FA Cup – Final – Wembley Stadium
(Image credit: Adam Davy)

Supporters’ groups have been urged to do more to condemn misbehaving fans by the UK’s football policing lead amid a rise in disorder at matches this season.

Reported incidents of disorder were up by 36 per cent in the first half of the current campaign compared to the same period in the 2019-20 season, with ugly scenes witnessed again last weekend.

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s football policing lead, has been encouraged that the sport’s authorities are being “responsible” and believes they recognise there is an issue which needs tackling.

He has called for “ridiculous” plans to stage pilots allowing fans to drink alcohol in sight of the pitch to be dropped, for cocaine to be included as an aggravating factor in banning order legislation and for clubs, leagues and police forces to share intelligence wherever possible.

He believes supporters’ groups have a key role to play too.

“They can often be really vocal, but they need to come out and start condemning this behaviour as well because the vast majority of people who go to football, the overwhelming majority are just decent folk who want to go and enjoy the game,” he told the PA news agency.

“The fans need to start calling it out, they need to say this is unacceptable and not what we want.”

Morecambe’s League One match at home to Bolton on Saturday was halted for 10 minutes after an allegation that racist abuse was directed towards the visitors’ dugout, while a teenage Leicester fan who invaded the pitch during Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest has been charged with assaulting three Forest players.

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The Football Supporters’ Association said in a statement: “We agree entirely with the statement that the vast majority of people who go to football are just decent folk who want to go and enjoy the game. We also agree that there were numerous examples of unacceptable behaviour over the weekend. We oppose violence in all its forms, be that physical or verbal, and will continue to work with clubs, leagues and the authorities to challenge such behaviour and to develop effective and proportionate measures to tackle it.”

The EFL and the Premier League are conducting an urgent review of fan behaviour and have written to their clubs asking them to identify “interventions” that may be necessary to curb the rise in disorder.

Chief Constable Roberts said of the authorities’ response: “There is a consensus. In the past, when police have said ‘there’s a problem’ there has been a deafening silence.

“This time, I think everyone has been really responsible. We won’t agree on everything, but I think the fact that there’s consensus and people want to work together to improve it is actually a really important and positive first step.

“We need to work closely with leagues and clubs to share information and intelligence. We need to have targeted operations. Where it’s the right thing we need police in the grounds to take positive action, because there needs to be a visible sign that this behaviour is unacceptable.

“The best way of conveying that is to see someone get arrested and taken out of the ground. It needs a joint effort. I think it’s quite encouraging the response we’ve had from the league and safety officers but we need that joined-up approach to translate into action.”

Roberts believes there is a need for a “clear escalation policy” where low-level matters can be tackled – especially among young fans – via education and diversion but repeat and serious offences are met with individual game bans and banning orders in the most egregious cases.

Roberts said disorder had increased across the board in 2021-22 compared to 2019-20, highlighting incidents with pyrotechnics – up from 193 to 229 – the throwing of missiles – 116 to 223 – and hate crime reports in stadia – 146 to 206.

The fan-led review, chaired by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, pictured, recommended a small-scale pilot allowing alcohol to be sold to fans for consumption in sight of the pitch

The fan-led review, chaired by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, pictured, recommended a small-scale pilot allowing alcohol to be sold to fans for consumption in sight of the pitch (DCMS Handout/PA)

He called on the courts to impose banning orders on a more regular basis, and believes the fan-led review proposal to trial the sale of alcohol in sight of the pitch has to be a non-starter in the current climate.

“I just hope that common sense prevails in Government and they drop this idea of even piloting alcohol coming back into stadiums,” he said.

“The idea that adding alcohol to the issues that we’ve currently got wouldn’t make it significantly worse, I think it’s just naive.

“I believe the suggestion is it should be trialled in League Two and non-league – well, they have seen significant increase in disorder so it’s nonsensical to do it there.

UK football policing lead, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, believes cocaine use is contributing to the increase in football disorder

UK football policing lead, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, believes cocaine use is contributing to the increase in football disorder (Aaron Chown/PA)

“You’re actually just fuelling a problem in leagues where we’re less able to deal with it. I think it’s ridiculous – I can’t be any more clear. We’re seeing increases in disorder, so we need to kibosh the idea of more alcohol.”

Cocaine use is a growing concern for the police, and Roberts said: “We get feedback from supporters about open cocaine use in places.

“Where we do exercises of swabbing toilets for cocaine we get a very high prevalence of it. We know there’s widespread use and people arrested are often under the effects.

“We did operations over the weekend, where we had drugs operations meeting trains, etc, and whenever we do that we find an awful lot of discarded cocaine, pyrotechnics.

“Every time we intervene, we get a consistent picture that cocaine is a massive issue.”

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