Football supporters in England could finally be allowed to drink alcohol on the terraces again following the recommendations of a fan-led review.
Tracey Crouch, the former Sports Minister, was tasked with leading the independent review into football governance, and the most eye-catching of her findings was that the ban on alcohol consumption at games was ‘outdated.’
The ban was first implemented in 1985 at a time when football hooliganism was rife, with alcohol considered to be a key ingredient by the powers-that-be. However, the concern for Crouch is that the prohibition promotes binge drinking both before a game and during the half-time period.
“Our view on alcohol and football is outdated,” Crouch told The Times.
“We kettle people into drinking quickly at half-time. And that is the unhealthy aspect of the football fan’s relationship with alcohol.
“They drink a lot in a short space of time. So my recommendation is to pilot this, and not have to down a pint at half-time.”
The MP for Chatham and Aylesford also claimed a rethink was needed throughout the football pyramid, citing the example of Dulwich Hamlet, who make the majority of their revenue in alcohol sales. They have stated that promotion to the National League would be unaffordable, as they would then fall under the booze blanket ban.
It is expected that if the government agrees to consider lifting the ban on the sale of alcohol at English grounds, a pilot scheme would first be run in less-attended games in League Two and the National League.
Football’s Existential Crisis
The six-month long review has taken in a number of opinions from the FA, clubs at different levels of the pyramid, supporters’ groups and academics to best determine how the experience for fans of the beautiful game can be improved.
A number of recommendations have been published in an open letter, and the chief finding was that fans are desperate for rules to be introduced that prevent dispassionate owners from running their clubs into the ground – the examples of Bury and Macclesfield are cited.
The letter also highlights the ‘existential crisis’ facing football in an era where countless clubs are operating at a financial loss, and warns of dire consequences if the situation isn’t remedied. Even before matches were played behind closed doors during the 2018/19 season, almost half of Premier League clubs made a loss while just two Championship clubs made a profit. In Leagues One and Two, the combined loss was £22 million and £20 million respectively.
The need for an independent football regulator has also been raised. Such an organisation could ensure that financial rules are adhered to before a club faces ruin, and they would also take a closer control of owners that are running their clubs in a manner not befitting their primary purpose – perhaps with the stipulation that fan representatives must sit on a board of directors in a non-executive role.
Increased investment in lower league, grassroots and women’s football was also identified as a key area of improvement, while the panel of stakeholders Crouch spoke to also raised concerns about the proliferation of gambling branding in the sport – that will likely be fed into the review of the Gambling Act which is ongoing.