Women explain why 'there's a dark side to this beautiful game'

The Lighthouse Centre's CEO Jill Barr
-Credit: (Image: Jill Barr)

“It’s all kicking off. He’s kicking off.” Jill Barr tells me she uses this language deliberately. She is recalling some of the “horrifying” stories she has listened to throughout her 34 years of working with domestic abuse victims.

These stories, she said, become more frequent when huge sporting events are happening in the UK. This time around she is voicing her concerns for victims as the UEFA Euros 2024 continue.

Jill said there are many reasons why there is a spike in domestic abuse during tournaments - claiming football “is mainly a sport, played by men and watched by men and most of the domestic abuse reported is male on female”.

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The Scotswoman, now living in the Wirral, told the ECHO: “The association with football tends to be quite tribal. People are very passionate about their team especially, as we are seeing now, with the England team.

“There’s such a big build-up around match day. There’s so much excitement and tension. But in the family home, that tension is felt mostly by women and children - they know that dad or partner, or whatever male, is going to be watching the football. You’ve got heightened tensions already just by this.

“There’s so much emotion attached to the game. We have the hot weather that doesn’t help either as alcohol is usually involved. “ ill is the CEO of the Lighthouse Centre and has been for three years now. Located in Rock Ferry, the company offers a safe space for both women and children.

She wants to make it clear domestic abuse is not caused by football or alcohol but rather the two tend to trigger behaviours related to it. The responsibility in domestic violence lies with the abuser.

She said: “Football is referred to as a beautiful game and that strikes me. The women and children we support do not feel this way at all. Football brings consequences. We talk about kick-off in football and we talk about kicking-off in domestic abuse, so already we can see the two are quite aligned alarmingly.”

A Lancaster University study showed reports of domestic abuse increased by 38% when England lost a match and 26% when they won or drew. However, Merseyside Police challenged this, citing the force's figures suggest there is no rise for the region.

Detective Superintendent Paul Lamb said: “We want to make it clear that celebration, inflamed passion and excess alcohol during a football game are no excuse for domestic abuse. We know domestic abuse is sadly happening every day in Merseyside and as a force we are committed to eradicating it, bringing offenders to justice and supporting victim-survivors.”

Rebecca Radcliffe said the issue with abuse and football goes beyond the likes of Euros and the latest Qatar World Cup - especially when it comes to Merseyside, a county renowned for its football fans whether it be Liverpool or Everton FC.

The director of South Liverpool Domestic Abuse Services (SLDAS) said: “Merseyside is massive for football so a lot of the generic cases we are seeing are escalated from it. It’s an ongoing problem for us. We get a lot of self-referrals coming in the following days after a match has been on.”

Rebecca, who has 22 years of experience, said domestic abuse is underpinned by a power imbalance in a relationship. She added: “Many people assume that someone would need to lose control to inflict harm or the threat of harm on someone they are supposed to care for. However, abusers are calculated to gain control. The ability to control their behaviour is why many abusers can hide behind a persona to everyone else.”

Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell said tackling violence against women and girls is one of her “top priorities”.

The 36-year-old mum works alongside Women’s Aid - a national charity that recently launched the No More Years of Hurt campaign. The initiative aims to shine a light on the darker side of major football championships.

Mrs Spurrell said: “There is never an excuse for domestic abuse and that includes being disappointed about the result of a match or consuming too much alcohol. Football has a huge power for good in our communities, but sadly we know high profile tournaments can lead to behaviours which in turn increase the risk of domestic abuse.”

You can report domestic abuse by calling 101 if you are not in an emergency situation.

If you are in immediate danger, always call 999. If you ring 999 and are not in a safe position to speak, you can cough or tap the phone and press 55, when prompted. This will alert the operator that you need assistance.