Police could advise foreign cities to restrict alcohol sales next time England play abroad

Exclusive: Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts said that it is ‘difficult to stop’ the drunken behaviour of England fans abroad

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Thursday 18 October 2018 17:09
Press conference with England manager Gareth Southgate following their 3-2 Nations League win over Spain in Seville

British police will consider advising foreign cities to restrict alcohol sales next time England play football abroad, as they desperately look for a solution to English fans’ anti-social behaviour.

England’s trip to Seville this week was marred by bad behaviour from fans, as was the case with their game in Amsterdam last March. As well as drunken violence and sectarian chanting, it involved coin throwing from England fans at the Spanish fans beneath them in the Estadio Benito Villamarin, according to the British police.

England’s two November games are both at Wembley, meaning their next away games are likely to be Euro 2020 qualifiers in late March 2019. The Football Association and the police are now trying to find ways to prevent a repeat of recent events.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Football Policing Lead, told The Independent that it is “difficult to stop” the drunken behaviour abroad of a certain group of England fans. The FA controls away tickets through the England Supporters Travel Club, and the police can apply for Football Banning Orders to stop fans from travelling. But they cannot stop everyone.

The UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) is now set to strengthen its advice to whichever foreign cities host England’s next away games in the first half of next year. While they are keen to stress that most fans behave well, they want to be honest about the sizeable minority who do not.

“There is too big an element who drink and behave obnoxiously,” DCC Roberts said. “It is a minority, but there are far too many, and it would be wrong to try to minimise it as a small minority. There is a significant contingent of people who cannot behave because of alcohol.”

“We are going to describe the behaviour we are going to anticipate, which is fans drinking to excess and becoming disorderly,” DCC Roberts said. “Then the conversation is about how to stop that from happening, and what we think will work well. We can look at banning orders for some, and at the licencing restrictions of host cities, whether that is the closure of places, or fans’ ability to buy alcohol from off-licences. We can ask local police to take positive steps with people who cause trouble. The root of this is dealing with alcohol.”

There is a sense of frustration from the authorities that after the positive experience of the World Cup in Russia, which DCC Roberts describes as “an anomaly”, England fans’ behaviour is continuing to get worse on foreign trips.

“At the away friendly in Turin before Euro 2016 there was a noticeable shift,” DCC Roberts said. “We had been on an even keel, in a good position. But there was lots of very unpleasant anti-social behaviour there. The feedback from England regulars about the crowd at that game was that there was a younger element behaving badly. There were comments from fans that they didn’t remember how bad it was when England were the pariahs, how unpleasant it was to get off the plan to riot police and dogs. There is a degree of that, but you also see vile behaviour from older people.”

The UKFPU sets out to “empower” decent fans, and sees the smooth running of the 2018 World Cup as a vindication for the good behaviour of the England regulars. “In Russia, they were followed by genuine fans, who engaged, behaved and made friends,” DCC Roberts said. “Everywhere they went, they made a good impression.”

On the other side of the coin, the UKFPU has been successful in excluding the traditional ‘hooligan’ element, the “genuine risk supporters”, by applying to courts for Football Banning Orders, under which suspects have to surrender their passports so they cannot travel. Many of those involved with disorder in Amsterdam and Seville will be issued with banning orders in due course.

England fans were said to have thrown coins at Spanish supporters during Monday’s game 

The trouble for the FA and the police is the fans who belong to neither group – not the regular England fans who are members of the ESTC, but not traditional hooligans with criminal records either. These casual fans, generally younger than the other two groups, have proven to be most difficult to stop.

“It is very difficult to stop those people because their behaviour is quite spontaneous,” said DCC Roberts.

“They go for a boozy weekend, they are getting drunk, singing completely inappropriate songs and behaving in a way that is confrontational for any locals. We have seen deliberately antagonistic behaviour: singing about ’10 German bombers’ in Dortmund, about Gibraltar in Spain, calculated to push the buttons of locals. It is difficult to break people out of that mentality. It is difficult to stop. They do not have travel bans or histories of travel, they can travel normally. But they drink too much and behave badly. How do you stop that?”

These were the fans who caused trouble in Amsterdam, where there were more than 100 arrests, and again in Seville this week. The improved behaviour in Russia was largely forgotten. “Russia was the anomaly for a number of reasons, now we are back on the track of Amsterdam and Dortmund,” DCC Roberts said.

“I got an update at half-time on Monday from Spain from the header of our delegation, when England were 3-0 up. You would expect people to have been happy. But he reported to me there were England fans in the upper tier throwing coins down at Spanish fans. There were 30 England fans in the home section being problematic, causing problems with fans and stewards. There were 30 to 50 outside the stadium trying to force entry. And there was a group in the town centre being rowdy causing trouble for the policy. If you’ve got people will behave like that when England are 3-0 up in Spain, they are not interested in the football.”

There has also been an increase in nationalistic undertones among the England away support. “It is becoming more common recently,” DCC Roberts said. “There was a point where the anti-IRA songs were fading away. But now to hear blatant anti-Catholic and anti-Pope songs, they have not been heard for a while.”

The UKFPU is determined to stop a repeat of these scenes next year. They will seek banning orders where relevant, and can apply for them even for individuals who were not arrested. But they also need stronger measures abroad. “We will be truthful and provide an accurate appraisal going forward,” DCC Roberts said. “That means early intervention and restricted alcohol sales. There are only so many times we can seek to play down the behaviour of fans.”

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