Football arrests hit their highest level in eight years last season while pitch invasions more than doubled from pre-pandemic levels, according to new data from the Home Office.
The 2021-22 statistics for games played in England and Wales make grim reading for football authorities and law enforcement, and follow a campaign that has been marred by players assaulted by intrusive fans.
A custodial sentence was handed down to a Leicester fan who assaulted three Nottingham Forest players during an FA Cup match in February, while a Forest fan was handed a 24-day prison sentence weeks and a 10-year banning order for headbutting Sheffield United player Billy Sharp during a Championship play-off in May.
There were also pitch invasions and clashes in other season-ending games, and the 441 games where a pitch invasion was recorded represented a 127% increase on the figure for the 2018-19 season. , the last full campaign to be played without any Covid-19 restrictions.
The 2,198 football-related arrests recorded last season were the highest figure since 2013-14, while the number of games where incidents of hate crimes were reported increased by 99% compared to 2018-19, for reaching 384. Reported incidents of any disorder were recorded at 1,609 matches, or 53% of the 3,019 regulated games covered by the data.
The number of matches where possession of pyrotechnics was recorded was 729, an increase of 118%.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, National Chief Constable Council officer for football policing, called the statistics ‘extremely worrying’ but welcomed the Premier League’s announcement on Wednesday of minimum bans on football. one year for any supporter who invades the pitch or is caught carrying or setting off pyrotechnics.
He said it needed a “collective responsibility” from fans to fight pitch invasions and recognition that what some see as an expression of joy and celebration can in fact cover up far more serious criminal behavior.
He told PA: “Once there are several hundred people on the pitch, it’s impossible to separate those who just want to have fun from those who want to assault players, threaten players and aggravate opposing fans. , then it becomes difficult to manage.
“So there has to be a collective responsibility here. I think for a number of seasons there has been some tolerance with late season pitch invasions.
“Unfortunately what we have seen is players being attacked so we will have to draw a firm line because what we have done before is not working.
“You have to understand that you can’t go on the pitch and there will be a sanction for that.”
Police Chief Roberts said alcohol was a “perennial driver” of bad behavior in football and in society at large, but said cocaine was a growing cause for concern.
“When we do operations on the rail network and when we do operations in the field, we constantly see the presence of cocaine,” he said.
“When we’ve done drills where we’ve dabbed in the toilet on the pitch, we know they’re clear before the game, then when we dab after you usually get a 100% success rate (for cocaine) .
“So it’s clear that it’s a common thing to take in football and we need to clamp down on that. There’s a lot of evidence that cocaine, especially with alcohol, in a state of intense emotion that you feel often with football, leads to aggressive and violent behavior.
Football banning orders have now been extended to cover convictions for online hate crimes related to sport, while convictions for selling or using Class A drugs will also fall under the banning order regime from ‘october.
Douglas Mackay, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for the West Midlands and Senior Sports Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 would also impact the imposition of restraining orders in the future.
He told PA: ‘Before the end of June, a court had to be satisfied that a restraining order would prevent violence or disorder. There was therefore, in effect, a test to be overcome for the prosecution and the police.
“The test after June 29 is that the courts will impose a restraining order unless it is unfair in all the circumstances to do so. So the focus is a bit more on the defendant to show why it’s unfair to impose it, and I think it’s reasonable to expect an increase in restraining orders as a result of this change.