The cost of policing football in London

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The use of taxpayers’ money to fund the policing of public events has long been a contentious issue in the United Kingdom, with the debate once again having reared its head in the build-up to the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier this year. The cost of police presence at football matches is also entirely the responsibility of the taxpayer; costing millions over the course of a season.

However, the policing of football keeps its fans – and the public around them – safe from numerous issues; including violence, assault, and drunkenly behaviour. Furthermore, derby clashes between rival sides often result in a rise of violent outbreaks and anti-social behaviour.

The information, gathered from the Metropolitan Police’s Freedom of Information Act Publication Scheme, investigated the costs and outcomes of policing football games; as well as the reasons behind arrests at football in London. This report from will investigate the patterns and changes behind policing London football clubs from the Premier League to the National League in the period from 2015-2018.

The cost per fan

On average in the 2016/17 season, policing London’s football cost just short of £250,000 per game, a figure which fell to nearly £228,000 per game the season after. Of these, it cost close to £45,000 to police a single West Ham United game; in comparison to just over £2,500 for one Barnet match. When looking at a cost per fan per game basis, Sutton United became cheaper to police – from a costly £4.40 in 2016/17 to just 84p the following season.

The largest change in cost was at Barnet – which became 76p more expensive to police in the 2017/18 season in comparison to the previous campaign. Despite having the largest stadium in London, Tottenham’s season at the 90,000-seater Wembley Stadium was cheaper to police per fan per game than their previous White Hart Lane home. Tottenham were, however, responsible for the highest overall cost – standing at a whopping £1.2 million for their entire season at the national stadium.

Cost of Policing Football
The Cost of Policing Football

Number of Offences

Of the 15 London clubs whose offences were registered by the Met Police, only one stadium saw the number offences committed remained the same over the course of the 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons with fans at Dagenham & Redbridge’s Victoria Road behaving impeccably and avoiding arrest in all three seasons. However, on the other end of the scale, fans at Brentford and Millwall couldn’t keep out of the handcuffs – with both stadiums seeing more and more arrests by the year.

Conversely, four clubs – Barnet, Chelsea, Fulham and QPR saw their ground’s number of arrests fall drastically over the three seasons; though fans at Fulham’s Craven Cottage were starting at an unusually high 155 arrests in 2015/16. This good behaviour was telling as the number of arrests across the London football clubs fell from 519 in 2015/16 to 415 in 2017/18, despite rises in stadium sizes – and thus attendances – for both Tottenham and West Ham.

When splitting the capital into North, East, South and West, fans at the East London stadiums – including West Ham, Leyton Orient and Dagenham & Redbridge – come out as the best behaved on average. This is helped by lower and non-league Leyton Orient and Dagenham & Redbridge, the latter of whom saw no arrests.
Number of Offences

Number of Offences
Types of offences

The Types of Offences

The most-reported offence across the London clubs was violence – resulting in a mammoth 450 arrests across the 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons; which included obscure offences such as violence against stewards. This was followed closely by arrests for the use, sale and possession of prohibited drugs – which led to 394 arrests.

Despite a rise in racial incidents at football in the 2018/19 season, the previous three seasons had seen a steady fall in arrests for racially aggravated assaults; both physical and verbal – falling by 23% from 2015/16 to 2017/18.

There was also a fall in the number of arrests related to drugs and alcohol over the three seasons, dropping from 220 in the first season to 180 in 2016/17, before hitting a low of 163 in the final season of the report.

Types of Offences

Outcomes of Arrests

Of all the football fans arrested from the start of the 2015/16 season until the end of the 2018 calendar year, a third of arrests ended up being charged for their crimes; an astronomical 558 supporters. Of all those arrested, 14% were also cautioned for their transgressions. Finally, 45 supporters over the course of three and a half seasons were bailed after wrongdoings – a mere 3% of all fans arrested.

77 of those fans punished for their actions also received banning orders from certain stadia or even football in general; ranging from a year’s ban to five years away from all football stadiums. However, one of those 77 fans had already been on a banning order, which was extended after he attempted to watch Millwall v Bradford in September 2016.

outcome of arrests

Dealing with Derbies

London’s many football clubs allow for fierce rivalries to evolve and thus, there are often numerous heated derbies on a yearly basis. Of all London clubs, the Met Police’s data shows fixtures featuring Tottenham Hotspur to be the cause of the most arrests. The North London club’s enmity with Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham United result in various clashes, leading to Spurs featuring in the five most troublesome fixtures.

In both home and away games versus both Arsenal and West Ham United, Tottenham fans are better behaved than their rivals’ fans – especially those of West Ham, who are arrested two and a half more times than their North London rivals when the two teams meet. However, the data shows that the only fixture in which Spurs fans are arrested more than their rivals’ supporters is Chelsea versus Tottenham.

The games between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge rank as the 5th biggest rivalry by number of fans arrested over the past three and a half seasons, a comfortable six arrests behind fourth placed West Ham v Tottenham. The North London derbies sit second and third, with Tottenham v West Ham sitting top of the tree; with 37 arrests in three and a half seasons. Of those 37, a staggering 28 were on record as West Ham fans, adding to the theory that the Irons’ supporters view their trips to Tottenham as their biggest occasion of the season.

Top 5 Fiercest Derbies
Tough Derbies

Despite these fierce clashes, the cost of policing London’s football matches has thankfully fallen at a steady rate on a yearly basis, while the number of arrests has also seen a decline from August 2015 to December 2018. While preconceptions around football hooligans still exist, the behaviour of London clubs’ supporters are encouraging from both a footballing and societal perspective.