The November print edition of Professional Security Magazine has a page on the latest figures from the Home Office on football restraining orders and arrests. It’s the latest of many pages about the resurgence of problems on the pitch, including the siege of Wembley for around 12 hours before, during and after the Euro 2021 final when Italy beat England on penalties. aim.
As Home Office statistics from this and previous years show, relatively worse hooliganism occurs in the football pyramid. While Premier League club security regularly focuses on away supporters, in the lower leagues it is the clubs’ own supporters, or to be precise the most fanatical, ‘ultras’.
In the fifth tier, Wrexham fans have been causing problems on the street in Oldham recently. Another uneventful match, Derby County FC against Plymouth in the third tier, led to arrests. In a second tier game between Lancashire rivals Blackpool FC and Blackburn Rovers FC, missiles were launched. Lancashire Police later released CCTV footage of fans from the two clubs they wanted to identify; image quality was mixed at best.
It’s unfair to single out Blackpool FC, although the Championship is arguably the worst example of a division finding big money for wages and transfer fees – relatively a lot compared to the continent’s top leagues – but still seems unable to go beyond what is mandated as absolutely necessary for ground security, which includes CCTV. Not that the proverbial wallets are more open in the fabulously wealthy Premier League.
A security provider recalls going to a Premier League pitch, hoping to land a contract. Each time, they passed the same high-end car (was it a Ferrari, a Lamborghini?) parked in the same place. He started asking, what was the story behind all this? It belonged to a player who went to the team coach, and didn’t get it back; and it remained there, evidently surplus to its needs. The supplier indicated that by selling the vehicle (although the player may have gotten it for free to promote the brand?), the club could have afforded the contract the supplier was hoping for.
Even in the Premier League, service providers generally struggle to gain approval. Any such signature must go up the management chain to the owner; and if they got up on the wrong side that morning, or if their shares have been falling lately, the owner can refuse to sign.
There are two major shortcomings in English football, and have been since the Premier League was established; between the Premier League and the rest, and between the player side, where players can unremarkably have six-figure weekly earnings, and the facilities side which includes stewardship and security, which relies on zero hours, minimum wage or slightly above stewards, cleaners, bar staff, wait staff, etc.
It is far from unusual, a dozen years or more after the arrival of IP network video surveillance, to find a professional club still using cameras from the analog era, transmitting video via coaxial cable to recorders digital video. This could also be true of hospitals; but they don’t enjoy billion-pound TV deals. Even the fairly modern stadiums renovated following the reforms after Hillsborough do not have the most modern network infrastructure. The biggest capital expenditures could therefore be on this backbone, rather than the video cameras connected to it, which are just one type of device connected to a network; and in any case, the user can budget to replace a few analog cameras with digital cameras at a time.
Each pitch’s SAG (Security Advisory Group) consisting of police and local government officers and others may require new cameras or other upgrades, or deny the pitch a license. Or, a SAG may order a booth closed, due to poor CCTV (or some other gap in the fabric). But it’s a brave member of a SAG, and a member who knows where they stand, to make such a request, as it would deprive a club of revenue, or the ability to play at all (and bring in revenue for finance improvements, a club could discuss). In any case, if a stand was closed due to poor quality CCTV, a club could circumvent this by hiring stewards. Although delegates have become difficult to recruit and retain; a survey by the trade body UK Crowd Management Association found that many of its members might regularly overbook by 10, 20 or 30% in order to be reasonably sure that they would meet 100% of a stewarding requirement.
Why the difficulty of hiring stewards, usually only needed on Saturday afternoons and mid-week evenings, to supplement income, including as a doorman? As with the hospitality and service sectors more generally, the reasons could be many: Brexit, covid lockdowns which meant the sport needed far fewer stewards, however quickly professional sports restarted after the spring 2020 lockdown; even Manchester Arena Inquiry’s forensic examination of teenage stewards, which made alternatives (dry and warm, no shouting, drunken and ungrateful spectators) such as working in shops and cafes seem more appealing, even for better hourly rates.
The skyrocketing cost of electricity means lower league clubs are wondering if a referee should really insist on floodlights being switched on so early, or not at all, given that pitch lighting is a four-digit sum. Why couldn’t Premier League clubs adopt local lower league clubs and help them out so they can afford new CCTV?