Disorder, drug use and ticket prices main concerns for fans as Premier League returns

·5-min read
Fans gather for Italy v England - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - July 11, 2021 England fans with flares on Wembley way outside Wembley stadium ahead of the match Action Image - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - July 11, 2021 England fans with flares on Wembley way outside Wembley stadium ahead of the match Action Images
Fans gather for Italy v England - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - July 11, 2021 England fans with flares on Wembley way outside Wembley stadium ahead of the match Action Image - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - July 11, 2021 England fans with flares on Wembley way outside Wembley stadium ahead of the match Action Images

Premier League fans have revealed their fears over supporter behaviour on the eve of the new season, with drug use and pyrotechnics both of mounting concern ahead of Friday night’s big kick-off.

In the second part of a Telegraph Sport Premier League fan survey, supporters from all 20 clubs were invited to detail their first-hand experiences after the return of full stadiums and a season that became marred by repeated episodes of disorder.

Only 10 per cent of respondents reported an improvement in fan behaviour, against 90 per cent who said that it had worsened or stayed the same. More than half also said that they had seen or heard sexist, racist or homophobic abuse inside a stadium during the past year, although fan representatives did also largely agree that such behaviour was steadily being driven out.

'Something has changed since the return of fans'

The survey found that ticket prices, club ownership and constantly changing broadcast times were the biggest concerns alongside fan behaviour.

“It is obvious that drugs are replacing alcohol as the ‘nourishment’ of choice at football matches,” said one fan. Another said that they knew of supporters who were “seriously thinking about giving up away games” over the level of disorder, and reported being knocked to the ground as another fan tried to confront home supporters.

“This was symptomatic of the aggressive atmosphere I saw all too often last season, with substance-loaded fans more interested in confrontation than the match itself,” said the fan. “Something has clearly changed since the return of fans to grounds.”

Another fan said that “smoke bombs, drug-taking and pitch invasions are all too frequent” but it was also stressed that the majority of matches passed off without problems. “There is a danger that well publicised poor supporter behaviour, which [we] all agree is not appropriate, presents an image that a significant number of supporters behave badly. This isn’t a fair comparison nor accurate,” said one supporters’ trust representative.

The Telegraph revealed in January that cocaine use had been identified by police as one of the factors behind a rise in disorder, but that there were also increases in offences relating to pyrotechnics, alcohol, pitch encroachment and hate crime.

Rodrigo of Manchester City reacts as Swindon fans set off a flare to celebrate their sides first goal scored by Harry McKirdy (Not pictured) during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Swindon Town and Manchester City at County Ground on January 07, 2022 in Swindon, England - Getty Images Sport
Rodrigo of Manchester City reacts as Swindon fans set off a flare to celebrate their sides first goal scored by Harry McKirdy (Not pictured) during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Swindon Town and Manchester City at County Ground on January 07, 2022 in Swindon, England - Getty Images Sport

The Football Association, Premier League and the English Football League announced new measures last week which will mean fans face automatic bans for drug use or if they are found with fireworks or flares, commonly known as “pyro”. The rise in pyrotechnics was specifically highlighted by numerous fans in the survey.

“Post-Covid, there has definitely been a change in fans’ behaviour,” reported one supporter, who has been attending top-flight matches for several decades. “The use of pyrotechnics is on the increase and the toxic chanting is getting worse.”

Although the majority of fans had heard or seen some racist, sexist or homophobic abuse over the past year, there was a clear feeling that it was now rarer and that such chants were generally viewed as unacceptable and quickly hushed. “The trend towards safety and inclusivity has a lot of support behind it,” said one fan.

'Ticket pricing is taking the game away from many fans'

Supporters from each of the 20 clubs were asked to rate the issues of the greatest concern and, while fan behaviour was considered fourth most important, it was behind ticket prices, club ownership and kick-off times that are often changed at short notice for broadcasters. This can often leave fans needing to rearrange their plans and without public transport options.

“The lack of consideration for the match-going supporter is astounding,” said one fan. Others described it as a “scandal”, adding that it “causes untold difficulties for supporters”. Ticket prices were the number one issue, with the cost of living crisis cited by respondents who reported first-hand knowledge of supporters who could no longer afford to attend matches. “Ticket pricing is taking the game away from many supporters and creating a whole generation of TV only supporters,” said one fan.

There were also calls for the Government to get on with establishing an independent regulator and more stringent checks on prospective Premier League owners. “The Newcastle debacle perfectly illustrates why the ownership rules need to be totally rewritten, with a mandate for fans to at least own a portion of their club,” said one fan.

Lingering ill-feeling from the botched attempt by Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City to join a European Super League was also evident.

Fans were asked to name the club they most disliked in the Premier League, with Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool mentioned most, followed by City, United and Arsenal. “All tried to kill English football with the Super League,” said one fan. There was a clear winner, though, for the club who are most admired by neutrals, with Brentford surpassing teams such as Brighton, Leicester and Liverpool, who polarised opinion both positively and negatively.

“A well-run club that live within their means, try to play attractive football and have welcoming fans,” said one fan of Brentford. A supporter representative of another Premier League club added: “A proper community club with good pricing for tickets, and a sound recruitment and sustainability policy. They also have a fan director on the board and have embraced the Golden Share issue. They’ve got a thoughtful and intelligent manager, and I hope they will continue to thrive.”