Fans could be allowed to drink alcohol at their seats DURING football matches for the first time in almost 40 years under plans being drawn up by Government, despite police insisting it’s ‘madness’
- Government’s response to Tracey Crouch’s review of football will include commitment to reexamine a 1985 law that bans alcohol during game
- Ministers will also sanction pilots to test safe drinking in view of the pitch
- Other sports already allow fans to drink alcohol while watching matches
- But UK Football Policing Unit has said it would be ‘madness’ to relax law
Football fans are set to be allowed to drink alcohol while watching matches for the first time in 37 years, under government plans to be published this summer.
Ministers have agreed to review the current ban on alcohol consumption during matches, which has been in place in the top five tiers of English football, since 1985.
And they will sanction a pilot scheme to test the safety of drinking alcohol in view of the pitch, which could pave the way for at-seat drinking at the highest levels of the game for the first time in almost four decades.
Government has agreed to review the law on alcohol sales during football matches
The move to review the current ban was recommended in a fan-led review of football by former sports minister Tracey Crouch, which published its report in November.
Government has today endorsed the 10 strategic recommendations from the review, which includes proposals to trial drinking during matches, and details will be set out in a White Paper this summer.
While drinking is banned during football matches, fans are allowed to consume alcohol while watching other sports and football should be brought in line say fan groups.
Meanwhile, the EFL points out that its clubs are losing a vital revenue source as a result of the ongoing ban.
The EFL has calculated that clubs would benefit from an average increase in income of £2 per fan for each home game, if drinking was allowed in seats.
While pilot schemes are expected to be focused on the lower leagues, they could pave the way for fans to drink at their seats during top flight matches
In total, EFL clubs could benefit from a windfall of around £35M across the Championship, League One and League Two, each season. If the impact was similar in the top flight, the move would be expected to be worth around £30M-a-year in the Premier League, if a ban was lifted.
However, there is expected to be resistance from the UK Football Policing Unit. The UK’s top football policing officer, Chief Constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire Police, previously told Sportsmail that it was ‘madness’ to lift the alcohol ban in stadiums during matches.
He has highlighted a surge in arrests at football matches this season and Euro 2020 was marred by serious violence at the final last year.
‘It is unpicking something which is designed to make things safer for fans,’ Roberts told Sportsmail when the fan-led review was published in November.
‘Many would say that they do not want it anyway and would not welcome fans in front of them getting up during games to go and buy alcohol.
‘It is being proposed at a time when we are seeing many worrying instances of violence at football at all levels, so the timing is bizarre.’
Other sports, including cricket and rugby, already allow drinking in view of the action
Football fan groups say it’s unfair supporters are treated differently depending on the sport
Ministers are aware of the concerns over fan behaviour and will consult with the police following the publication of the White Paper.
The EFL sees the additional income from alcohol sales as a vital source of revenue, particularly among cash-strapped lower league clubs, where the pilots are likely to take place.
‘The EFL would be very happy to contribute to any pilot scheme that works towards lifting the prohibition on the consumption of alcohol in sight of the pitch at professional matches,’ Trevor Birch, chief executive of the EFL, said last year.
‘Applying a blanket ban to everyone that attends is not proportionate to the level of risk and is unfair on law-abiding supporters and clubs.
‘Instead of a policy that effectively labels everyone who attends matches each season as a potential football hooligan there needs to be a more targeted approach that can see alcohol sales withdrawn whenever there is a heightened threat of disorder, but where that isn’t the case supporters should be entitled to be treated as they would for any other sports event or leisure activity.’
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association told Sportsmail today: ‘The current legislation relating to alcohol at football was brought in in 1985. The world has moved on considerably and not least in football.
The lead football police officer in the UK, Chief Constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire Police, is opposed to relaxing the at-seat alcohol ban, but Tracey Crouch’s review in to football, recommended a review of the current law and pilots to test safe drinking
‘We would welcome a review of that legislation. It is almost 40 years old.’
The FSA point out that there are anomalies in the rules around alcohol at football matches. Fans can drink extensively en route to and prior to matches, often in designated ‘away’ pubs, and then before the game and at half time beneath the stands, but not during it.
It is suggested the current arrangements encourage rapid drinking before games and at half-time, potentially increasing the risk of disorder.
Leyton Orient CEO Danny Macklin has said it is way past time that adult responsibility to drink sensibly and safely was conferred on football fans, as it is on those who watch other sports.
‘It’s something we’re keen to see trialled. The reality is it will help improve the fan experience,’ he told the PA news agency in September.
‘At the moment we have a lot of fans that rush into the Breyer Group Stadium at 10 to three after a few pints in the local establishments, rush to get in and often miss the first couple of minutes.’
Currently, fans attending non-league matches below the National League, are allowed to allowed to consume alcohol in view of the pitch, which is a lucrative activity. Clubs told the Crouch review that they could not afford to be promoted to the National League because that income stream would be cut off.
While the review of football comes under the remit of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, any revision of the law on alcohol sales would have to be approved by the Home Secretary.
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