Police chief defends ‘sensible decisions’ to cancel football matches after Queen’s death

·4 min read

A police chief has defended the cancellation of football games following the Queen’s death, saying “sensible decisions” had to be made as thousands of officers were sent to London.

Fans were angered by the last-minute postponement of some fixtures in the Europa League, Premier League, English Football League and other divisions, with many who had paid for travel and accommodation being left out of pocket.

The FA said all games were postponed on the weekend immediately following the Queen’s passing “as a mark of respect”, but further cancellations were made after play resumed on 12 September because of police resourcing.

Football restarted play on 12 September but some matches were postponed because of police resourcing (Zac Goodwin/PA). (PA Wire)
Football restarted play on 12 September but some matches were postponed because of police resourcing (Zac Goodwin/PA). (PA Wire)

Mark Roberts, the national lead for football policing, told The Independent “sensible decisions” had to be made as Operation London Bridge saw thousands of public order-trained officers who would normally be deployed at matches sent to the capital.

“Anyone who watched the policing operations in support of the events in Edinburgh and London and saw the sheer numbers deployed, that’s an exceptional event,” he added.

“Everyone applied common sense so we could get the right resources in the right place. I think policing did really well to cover as much as it did.”

Mr Roberts, who is the chief constable of Cheshire Constabulary, said some of the fixtures cancelled - including Chelsea vs Liverpool and Manchester United vs Leeds - were deemed “high risk” for disorder and could not be safely policed.

He said forces had “positive and sensible discussions” with the Premier League, EFL, FA and other authorities in the period.

Chief Constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire Police is the UK’s football policing lead (PA Archive)
Chief Constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire Police is the UK’s football policing lead (PA Archive)

It came amid rising disorder at matches, with official figures released on Thursday showing the 2021-22 season saw the highest number of football-related arrests in eight years.

Violence, pitch invasions and the use of dangerous pyrotechnics have been increasing, and police say children as young as 10 are being drawn into football hooliganism.

Factors believed to be contributing to the uptick in football disorder include the lifting of Covid restrictions after a period without matches, alcohol and cocaine use.

Mr Roberts warned that violence was not simply “dying down” after the pandemic and that serious incidents have been seen already in the new season, saying the reasons behind the increase will need “years of academic study to properly understand”.

He said that a greater proportion of games are having to be policed, with more officers each time, as a result of the worsening picture.

The change is putting pressure on police resources, causing regional forces to call in officers from other parts of the country to ensure they can safely cover football matches and maintain their normal business.

Mr Roberts praised the atmosphere of the Euro 2022 Lioness games, which were largely trouble free (PA Wire)
Mr Roberts praised the atmosphere of the Euro 2022 Lioness games, which were largely trouble free (PA Wire)

“We’d much rather not have to deploy more officers to football because there's a lot of challenges,” Mr Roberts said.

“We’ve started off a new season again with some serious disorder and it seems to be continuing the trend.

“The worry is that after a major tournament such as the World Cup, we do see an increase in disorder domestically. We’ve got the unusual event of a mid-season World Cup so the concern will be if that picture is replicated it could exacerbate the situation further.”

The police chief said he wished he could “bottle the atmosphere and behaviour” of the women’s Euro 2022 tournament, which saw only a handful of incidents and arrests, for the men’s game.

In May, the government announced an extension of football banning orders to fans convicted of using cocaine at matches, and allow passports to be seized when their teams are playing overseas.

The orders, imposed by courts, could previously be imposed on people convicted of violence, disorder and hate crimes.

In July, the Premier League, EFL and Football Association announced separate measures to ban pitch invaders, drug users and people carrying pyro from stadiums.

Home Office minister Jeremy Quin said:“Our football clubs are at the heart of our communities, and it is unacceptable that the game we all love is tarnished by a minority of selfish troublemakers.

“The increase in football-related arrests shows that police are taking firm action to stop this disorder and preserve the enjoyment of the game for fans and families which I wholeheartedly support.”