Alcohol in Football Stadiums – Is the 36-Year Ban About to be Lifted by Tracey Crouch?

It has been thirty-six years since British football fans have been able to consume alcohol in their seats at a football match but as part of her supporter-led review into football, Tracey Crouch is about to try and change that. 

The view of Conservative MP Tracey Crouch is that ‘alcohol and football is outdated’ and given that the legislation that prohibits fans from drinking in stadiums was introduced in 1985, it could be argued Crouch has a valid point.  

However, after the drink fuelled scenes prior to the Euro 2020 final the Sporting Events Control of Alcohol Act, which aims to prevent disorderly behaviour, appears to be more relevant than ever.

Historically, the relationship between football fans and alcohol has been blamed for violence and anti-social behaviour in and around stadiums.  

Indeed, in a study conducted by the Police Commanders – the authority responsible for crowd control at all 92 English League clubs, almost half felt with home supporters’ alcohol was an influence, whilst 11% of those that answered argued alcohol as the ‘single most serious influence’.  

The view of Police Commanders in relation to visiting Away fans, was slightly more damning. 18% felt that alcohol was the ‘most significant influence’ whilst a higher percentage of 35% rated it as serious. 

Stirling University researcher Richard Purves, who has conducted thorough research into the specific role of alcohol in football, feels the issues lie more with the way alcohol is sold.  

He said: “In England, the Heysel disaster was also blamed on fans’ alcohol consumption with little evidence to this fact. 

This meant that alcohol sales were limited, and alcohol not permitted to be consumed in sight of the pitch.” 

“The drinking culture in the UK is not unusual but when alcohol is consumed at football matches it is primarily binge-based. According to our research, the current regulations regarding alcohol and football may be contributing to the binge culture as it encourages fans to consume large amounts of alcohol before the match and at half time (in England).” 

“Allowing alcohol to be consumed at a more leisurely pace in a regulated environment may result in an overall decrease in the amount of alcohol consumed. However, any changes to restrictions would have to be carefully monitored and based on risk. For example, high-risk matches would not be subject to any change.” 

In regards to Tracey Crouch’s recommendations, Purves was quick to add that any changes to the current legislation would have to be “carefully designed, monitored and evaluated and need to have public health and public order at the forefront of the decision-making process.” 

Like Richard Purves, many feel the current legislation encourages binge-drinking in the concourse of stadiums, where alcohol can be sold.  

Andrea Jones, Head of Communications at the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA), sent TUXtra documentation that also expressed the SGSA’s desires for the current legislation to be updated in an attempt to combat issues around the transmission of COVID-19 in concourses and poor fan behaviour.  

It read: “The England and Wales legislation dates from 1985 and was right for its time of introduction – a time of poor stadium design, poor safety management, poor fan behaviour and low expectation of service provision by fans.  

Times have changed with new or relatively new stadia able to provide a better food and beverage offer, including at-seat service, spectator behaviour is considerably better and both active and passive safety management measures are in place at grounds.” 

“Allowing the freedoms inside the venue may ease pressures in the local hostelries and bring many supporters into a more managed and controlled environment, which may on occasion require a policing presence but would more often rely on stewarding oversight as is the case now.  

However, the local police will consider the ability of the crowds to drink in sight of the pitch as a risk factor when categorising games, which may lead to an increased police presence at some matches (with associated costs and impact on police resources).” 

“There may also be a safety case, particularly at the current time as tightly packed, poorly ventilated concourses represent a significant risk of COVID-19 transmission.  

However, there are risks too in piloting this measure which would need to be carefully managed.” 

There is an idea that change to legislation may also create a financial opportunity for lower league clubs and the thoughts of the SGSA correspond with those of Tracey Crouch.  

“There is an economic case to make for the proposed pilot, as football recovers from the impact of the pandemic.” 

“If a pilot scheme is pursued, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority would welcome the opportunity to work with Government on its design, delivery and evaluation.” The SGSA added.  

The review by Tracey Crouch, that led to comment from organisations like the SGSA, was fan-led and the changes that have been suggested would undoubtedly effect the match-going fan, so TUXtra spoke to Fly Me to the Moon (FMTTM) Editor, Middlesbrough Fan and Member of the Middlesbrough Supporters Association, Rob Nichols for comment.  

On the possibility of the SGSA helping carry out a change, he said: “You would hope that two got together and removed that binge element.  

In Europe where it’s more relaxed, there’s more spread out drinking. In Great Britain they’ve got no choice in the matter at the moment.” 

Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review of football covers a wide variety of topics but the idea of a change to the way alcohol is consumed, something that is so intrinsically linked with football, indicates a looming cultural shift in the sport.  

It remains to be seen if action because of the review will take place.  

You can read the fan-led review in full here: Link. 

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