Police target a slice of football's millions as budget cuts loom

Senior officers lobby Government in bid to make clubs pay more for patrolling games
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The Independent Online

Senior police officers are lobbying the Home Office to force football clubs to contribute more to the cost of policing on matchdays, The Independent has learned. Clubs pay a tiny fraction of the sums incurred by police forces who are obliged to send officers to football matches. The rules about how much forces can recoup from clubs is laid down by Home Office guidance.

But with force budgets due to be cut by up to 25 per cent, the cost of policing football matches has been identified as an area where money can be saved.

Representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) have met with Home Office officials in an attempt to persuade them to redraft the guidance and allow for more money to be sought from the clubs.

Football clubs currently pay for police officers who operate in the "footprint" of the ground – the stadium and other land owned by the club – but nothing else. The cost of policing the areas most susceptible to crowd trouble – outside pubs and train stations – is met by the public purse.

Annually about £25m is spent policing football matches nationwide, but only about £8m is recouped from clubs. Assistant chief constable Andy Holt, the Acpo spokesman for football policing, said: "On a normal Saturday the cost of policing a town centre would be low, but if there is a football match on it increases. The real cost is policing the areas around the ground. Clubs say they shouldn't pay for the cost of policing near their ground, but the reason we are required to police those areas so intensively is the match."

Figures seen by this newspaper show the scale of the issue. Football matches are categorised A, B or C, depending on the likelihood of trouble, and the police presence is dependent on the size of the crowd and the risk of trouble. Last year a West Ham versus Millwall match – marred by crowd violence – cost the Metropolitan Police £186,000 but just £18,000 was recouped.

Low Risk (category A) Chelsea matches can cost the police £13,705 but the club, one of the wealthiest in the world, contributes just £397.

In contrast, the 2009 Wimbledon tennis tournament cost £782,000 to police, but the Met recouped £681,000 from the All England Club.

Police feel football clubs should pay more, especially given the huge commercial operations some are and the sums they spend on players. Acpo points out that if clubs paid for the total cost of policing football matches it would amount to just 0.6 per cent of the income of all 92 clubs. Should the Home Office guidance be changed, clubs with troublemaking fans will be hit hardest.

In a statement endorsed by the Football League, a Premier League spokesman said: "Police costs away from the ground are the responsibility of each individual force. Premier League clubs contribute in excess of £1bn to the Treasury each season and the 13m fans who attend our matches are taxpayers. We fail to see why football and its supporters should pay twice for policing."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Office is considering the best way to take this forward with a view to the need for updated guidance."