Arrests and reported incidents of disorder at football matches in England and Wales last season were at their highest level for eight years.
There were 2,198 football-related arrests, the highest number since the 2013-14 season, according to Home Office figures.
The 2021-22 campaign saw the return of capacity crowds after a year of Covid-19 restrictions.
Last season’s disorder included players being approached after pitch invasions.
A fan was jailed after running on to a pitch and headbutting Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp at the end of Nottingham Forest’s play-off match against the Blades.
A Manchester City fan who ran onto the pitch and taunted Aston Villa keeper Robin Olsen on the final day of the season at Etihad Stadium received a four-year football banning order.
More reported incidents and more arrests – key stats
- Incidents were reported at more than half of all matches (53%) – 1,609 of the 3,019 matches played
- Around 70% of fans arrested last season were aged between 18-30
- In 2018-19 – the last full season before Covid-19 restrictions – there were 1,381 arrests and reported incidents at 1,007 matches, equivalent to one-third of the games played
- It means reported incidents were up by 60% last season compared with 2018-19
- There were 441 pitch invasions reported last season – up by 127% on 2018-19
- Football-related arrests were up 59% – the highest number of arrests since 2,273 were made in 2013-14
- 516 new banning orders were issued – down on 549 in 2018-19
- Top three clubs for new banning orders – Millwall (33), Leicester City (28) and Everton (26)
- The most reported types of incidents were pyrotechnics (729 matches where incidents were reported), throwing missiles (561) and public order or anti-social behaviour incidents involving youth supporters (444).
‘Trend could cause issues for 20 years’
Football Policing Lead chief constable Mark Roberts has told the BBC unless action is taken with some of the younger fans involved in disorder “we will have a problem with them for the next 20 years”.
“Some people suggested it might die down and it was a post-Covid effect,” Roberts told the BBC. “Sadly we have seen it continue and there are some concerning statistics.”
Asked why the numbers are increasing, Roberts said: “There are a range of reasons. This isn’t just in the UK. We speak to police and colleagues across Europe and Uefa and it’s being seen across the continent.
“I think we know certain drive factors we have seen for a long time. Certainly alcohol and the use of class A drug, Cocaine, is playing a part in driving it.
“More young people are involved in disorder and crime and the highest proportion of arrests were in younger males. The concern is that if people are behaving that way now, unless action is taken, we will have a problem with them for the next 20 years.
“You can speculate that maybe some people were younger who went to games with parents pre-Covid but they have grown up a bit more. You could argue there have been fewer police in the ground over the years.
“With stewarding, we know there have been challenges and a lot of people have left that industry during Covid and that has given people the space to engage in poor behaviour.”
A change in the security industry is also something Geoff Pearson, professor of Law at the University of Manchester, says could be a factor.
“There has been a breakdown in the security industry more generally and it’s in crisis,” Pearson told the BBC.
“It’s affecting football the same way it is affecting other leisure industries. It simply doesn’t have the personnel it needs to be able to service the leisure industry in this country and that includes football.
“A lot of established security personnel left the industry during lockdown and they do not want to come back, another reason is Brexit as a lot of our security industry were people from Europe that came, sometimes seasonally, and they aren’t here anymore.”
‘[Fan behaviour] has definitely got worse’
The latest data follows recent comments by England internationals Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier, who both say there is an issue with fan behaviour at football.
Tottenham’s Dier says he feels “too uncomfortable” for his family to attend away matches, while Liverpool captain Henderson says his family’s experiences could “put them off going to future games”.
“[Fan behaviour] has definitely got worse,” Dier said.
“For me it is a serious problem. I had some family and friends at the Chelsea away game with Tottenham and they had problems.
“I wanted to emphasise it was both sets of fans – I am not saying it is Chelsea fans or Tottenham fans, it is football fans in general.”
Henderson added: “My family and friends have had a couple of experiences over the last couple of years, which has really shocked them and probably put them off going to future games.
“When you see scenes like you have in the Euros final, in the Champions League final, then they don’t really want to go and put themselves in that situation again.
“My wife and kids had to try and get in a side door (at Wembley) which they wouldn’t let them in at the beginning. And they were trapped.”
Minister for the Home Office Jeremy Quin added: “The increase in football-related arrests shows that police are taking firm action to stop disorder and preserve the enjoyment of the game for fans and families which I wholeheartedly support.”
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