Crime around professional football grounds increases on matchday, a fact which could determine how much clubs pay towards the policing of matches, according to a police report.
University College London (UCL) researchers were invited by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to conduct case studies focusing on five football grounds in England. They conclude that in four of the grounds, there is a statistically significant hike in crimes within 3km of the ground before and after matches.
“Our experience in policing shows that football matches tend to lead to an increase in crime and disorder in the areas surrounding football grounds,” says Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, Acpo’s lead for fooball.
“This study provides a further understanding of the effect that football matches can have on crime within our communities and will help inform the service should any future discussions take place on recording costs associated with policing football.”
The Premier League and the Football League, representing clubs in English football’s top four divisions, are predictably reluctant to acknowledge any greater responsibility for what happens around stadiums on match day.
In a statement, the Premier League said: “The law is quite clear – clubs pay for any policing inside the ground and on immediately adjacent property under their control… Costs incurred away from the ground that are deemed necessary are covered by the state – it’s what people pay their taxes for.”
Acpo has an attitude that football is a cash cow that’s to be milked. Peter Hannon, Football League
Peter Hannon, a press spokesman for the Football League, told Channel 4 News: “Acpo has an attitude that football is a cash cow that’s to be milked. That’s not the case. Our clubs contribute to the exchequer in the same way that Premier League clubs contribute.”
At present football clubs are only required to pay for policing inside the stadium and in the stadium’s immediate vicinity. A court ruling in December 2008 found that Greater Manchester Police had been overcharging Wigan Athletic for covering match days at the JJB stadium by demanding payment for special police services which they had not requested.
The court heard that Wigan used to be charged for special policing services inside the stadium, but then the police also demanded payment for the area surrounding the stadium.
Read more from Channel 4 News on football finance
The Premier League and the Football League both both draw comparisons between football matches and other major gatherings of people. Peter Hannon says: “Look at the Notting Hill Carnival, the London marathon, the Olympics – are police going to have to seek to recover costs for those?”
The kinds of potential for violence disorder around football grounds don’t exactly occur on Oxford Street. Justin Kurland, UCL
The Premier League, meanwhile, argues that if football clubs are expected to take responsibility for policing crime beyond their grounds, the same rules should apply to shop owners in crime hot-spots like Oxford Street: “If such a shopping street has more crimes when they are crowded compared to when they are closed, should the shops pay for the ‘shop-related’ crime?”
But Justin Kurland, one of the authors of the UCL report, rejects any analogy between policing football and policing London’s main shopping thoroughfare. “As far as I’m aware, the kinds of potential for violent disorder that take place around football grounds don’t exactly occur on Oxford Street. We’re talking about a completely different scenario.”
And what are the lessons, if any, to be learned from the fact that one of the five grounds studied produced no significant increase in local crime on the day of a match? Although the research team will not name the grounds featured, it concedes that the fifth stadium is untypical because of its location.
“This is quite a niche example as it’s away from the town centre,” an Acpo spokesman told Channel 4 News. “The transport links getting people to and from the game are also untypical. Supporters tend to congregate around this particular stadium in the lead-up to the game and, as such, crime is restricted to the footprint.”
To the extent that most of the ground examples are inside the town, it suggests a connection between football-related crime and environment. “Half of the football supporters who go to matches travel by car,” says Justin Kurland, “but the football clubs only provide, on average, one space for every 10 vehicles. That means people are parking all over the cities, and there’s no protection for those vehicles.
“The clubs want the best of both – they want to pay for what they own but don’t want to pay to provide supporters with a place to park. That would mean they’d have to increase their policing costs.”