When was the last time you remember trouble at a football game?
Maybe you saw it on the news, read a story, or even witnessed something yourself – the threat of violence, offensive chants, or even wide scale crowd unrest.
And when you saw that trouble, what was your first thought?
For most people, I reckon they would assume some failure of stewarding, the consumption of vast quantities of booze, or maybe even the breakdown of society.
I don’t think for a lot of people, their first instinct would be to blame lairy fans’ antics on cocaine, that Class A staple associated for years with bankers and celebrities.
So when the government starts to insist that cocaine use is the thing that they need to tackle in order to combat rising instances of ‘violence and disorder’ at football matches – something’s not clicking.
There’s a problem with football culture in the UK, but I don’t think it’s a coke problem.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse announced a new rule this week, warning any football fan convicted of selling or taking a class A drug at a match that they’ll face a five-year banning order, and could have to surrender their passports when their team is playing abroad.
That’s just stupid. Let’s have a look.
A report from the UK football policing unit in January this year reported that the 2020-21 season saw a 47% increase in arrests and 36% increase in disorder at matches against the same period the previous year.
Those are big, scary numbers! But while they are useful when used as soundbites, they don’t tell anything like the whole story.
I don’t know if you pay attention to the news, but there was a fairly significant global event that impacted on football attendances over the last few years.
The pandemic doesn’t entirely explain that increase, but it’s certainly a factor, and so too is the increase in the number of matches police attended last season.
Throwing that out the window and going ‘nah, it’s the cokeheads actually’ stinks of the government looking for a convenient excuse for a problem that’s existed in English football for a long, long time.
Some people are just arseholes. So it follows logically that a good handful of football fans are arseholes, if you assume the sport is as good a rough cross-section of society as any activity in the country.
When you get tens of thousands of people together, especially in an environment that encourages significant consumption of alcohol, it’s no surprise some arseholes will emerge.
That’s the fundamental problem with the policing of football fans in this country.
It’s difficult to deal with thousands of people, all in Crowd Mode – you know the thing, where 50 people are rushing the barrier so you might as well be the 51st because hey, you don’t want to be the sucker left behind – when they decide they don’t want to be policed by consent.
The final of the European Championships last summer is the real catalyst for this reform, when thousands of people tried to barge their way into Wembley without tickets, and single instances of outrageous behaviour went viral (how could we forget the ‘bum flare’ man?)
The shove at the stadium was legitimately dangerous, and bystanders reported that some people in the general carnage around the capital were taking cocaine.
Shocking. Tens of thousands of people having a massive party in London, and it seems like some of them were doing drugs.
Just… some of the people, hoovering up a key here and there while surrounded by people who were causing equal or more destruction without anything more potent than several dozen good-old fashioned lagers.
The aftermath focussed on a few high-profile (or, at least, the few visible) drug-takers in the crowd, with a swathe of headlines about how the ‘bum flare yob’ (Charlie Perry, to give him his Sunday name) had ADMITTED his cocaine use.
Because it’s easy to pick out one example as an anecdote to create your own headlines, especially if you don’t want to deal with the root of the problem – football fans and Crowd Mode are real, and they’re harder than hell to police.
Even more so when your police force in the capital seems to be doing its level best, day by day, to erode any trust and respect anyone had ever placed in it.
It’s OK though. Our fearless Prime Minister’s on the case. ‘Middle-class cokeheads’ are a huge problem, Boris Johnson says.
‘Their habit is feeding a war on our streets driving misery and crime across our country and beyond.’
Just listen to the man! Forthright! Bold!
Johnson went full ‘tough on the causes of crime’, adding: ‘That’s why we are stepping up our efforts to make sure those who break the law face the full consequences – because taking illegal drugs is never a victimless crime.’
That’s exactly the kind of hard-hitting statesmanship you want from…ah, the Eton and Oxford kid who, yes, is on the record talking about trying cocaine at university.
Is it possible that this headline-grabbing five-year ban line is just that – a headline grab to ineptly plaster over the problem that football culture in the UK is still toxic?
No, actually – it’s much worse than that.
It’s a headline grab that plasters over the wrong wall, in the wrong house. Three towns over.
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