By Jan Andre Lee Ludvigsen
The 2017/18 season of the English Premier League (EPL) was recently concluded. Manchester City were crowned as the undisputed champions after an impressive season seeing Pep Guardiola’s men reach the 100 point mark. While it was the season of Man City’s outstanding winning streak, and where Mo Salah would win the ‘hearts and minds’ of Liverpool (and probably also general football) fans – it was arguably one side of the EPL that was somewhat forgotten in-between discourses revolving around tactical masterclasses, transfer fees and Arsene Wenger’s departure from the EPL after nearly 22 years in charge.
Arguably, this remains the case within the academic sphere too (here, from a social science perspective) – where focus commonly is given the EPL’s globalization, commercial ‘hyperactivity’ and its wider impacts.
Link to picture here.
The aspects of the EPL I am thinking about are the league’s policing and security, which may find themselves somewhat ‘forgotten’ or ‘left behind’, even in an era where safety and security at major sports events has become increasingly central, and is subject to higher costs and more human efforts than ever.
A good illustrator of this was when the royal wedding (19th May 2017) coincided with the FA Cup Final, which meant two high-scale security operations (one football-related) across London; in Windsor and Wembley, more specifically. The latter; an area which has a higher crime-rate on ‘event days’, than non-event days. This commonly remains the case in the EPL, where matches coincide with other happenings, such as concerts, demonstrations or public festivals. Recently, when Liverpool played Bournemouth (14th April), the Grand National at Aintree took place only a few miles away. Such occurrences are not unique.
Perhaps is it the case that the lack of attention directed at contemporary EPL policing is related to the broader decline of organized ‘hooliganism’ and inter-linked related public disorder at EPL matches. Further, ‘SME studies’ commonly do not read the EPL as a sport mega-event (although it can be) – which means the growing SME-security-focused scholarship deals with World Cups and Olympics, rather than the ‘Prem’. Also, it may be the fact that the EPL is regarded as relatively safe – with more isolated, rather spontaneous heat-of-the-moment outbreaks of disorder and other offenses in recent seasons.
Since the 1980s, the securitization of the English first division (now EPL) intensified. Now, games involve larger police operations at ten (surveilled) venues more or less weekly, in different British cities on 38 match days from August till May – annually.
A decline of ‘hooliganism’ (with a steadily decreasing number of football-related arrests) and the EPL’s time/space diffuseness (compared to i.e. the World Cup), notwithstanding, does not mean the study of EPL’s policing (and security) should be ‘deprioritized’. Meanwhile, as frequent match-goers would know, not every violent act or offense are recorded and thus accounted for in the annual arrest-stats. The league’s policing requires big money, significant preparation, and of course (in)directly impacts match-goers’ match day experiences and stadia atmospheres.
Link for the figure.
|Football related arrests in England and Wales (seasons from 2010-2017). Figure derived from www.gov.uk at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/football-related-arrests-and-banning-orders-england-and-wales-season-2016-to-2017/football-related-arrests-and-banning-order-statistics-england-and-wales-2016-to-2017-season|
Reportedly, over the 2016/17 season of the EPL, matches in London cost the London Metropolitan Police £6.7 million. However, as currently framed, clubs are only legally obliged to pay for policing on their ‘own territory’; hence, inside the stadium, stadium carparks and a smaller area in the immediate proximity to the ground. Here, most clubs turn towards stewards and/or private security companies. Overall, the London clubs contributed with only £361,000 towards policing. London Mayor Sadiq Khan subsequently urged clubs to make higher contributions.
The intention behind this short post is not under any circumstances to downplay the important and ground-breaking work that has been conducted on policing in the EPL (and English football) by the likes of Lewis, Garland and Rowe, Pearson, Stott, Rookwood and Frosdick. However, there is still a lot of ground to cover, and debates that could take place concerning the EPL’s policing.
Among those questions that should be answered is the EPL clubs’ scarce contribution towards running costs of match-day policing, taking into account that clubs are companies with extreme (even extraordinary) revenue streams – and importantly – possess a social (corporate) responsibility. Additionally, questions concerning policing’s (and security’s) impact on match-day experiences, and operational analyses of methods such as the ‘friendly, but firm’ policing and inter-agency collaboration which seemingly are established practices, remains largely unanswered in the context of the EPL in a contemporary era, where the most prominent risks are no longer limited solely to ‘hooliganism’.
The 2017/18 season, like every other season, involved 380 memorable (and less memorable) games. This, however, translates into 380 police operations – some bigger, and some smaller than others. In addition, some of the EPL clubs’ European games were associated episodes of brutal violence and other offences.
With the financial costs of these operations, the amount of people involved (as security ‘stakeholders’ and spectators) – in addition to the potential impact on match day experiences and atmospheres, it seems natural to (again) recognize this area, in a time wherein it may be slightly overlooked, as transfer-records, broadcasting deals and shirt sponsors find themselves at the ‘center of the attention’.
Police and security presence are inevitable parts of any EPL match day; visible and non-visible. It is expected, desired and normalized. The relative lack of incidents that ‘automatically’ would make us – and the media – think about and discuss security and policing in the EPL must, however, not distract us from the huge efforts that are put into it on a weekly basis.
Jan Andre Lee Ludvigsen is a PhD Candidate at Liverpool John Moores University. His current research focuses on security at sport mega-events and football matches.