As chants of ‘it’s coming home’ echo throughout stadiums, crowded pubs and car radios, countless silent victims of domestic abuse will be coming home to something far more sinister. I’m not writing this piece to villainise the sport as a whole. I love football: it’s rich working-class history; it’s the power to bring communities together; its ability to bring nations together—I mean, it was the one thing that briefly stopped brutal trench warfare on 1914’s Christmas Day. But it’s also important to remember that, back in 2014, when England lost a game, incidents of domestic violence increased by 38 per cent. Even more shockingly, when they won, the number still increased by 26 per cent.
This was data taken from a study by Lancaster University which measured instances of domestic violence when England participated in the 2014 World Cup. But don’t think the same thinking process can’t be applied to the Euro 2020 too. Already, it’s estimated that 6.2 per cent of adults in England and Wales aged 16 to 59 have experienced domestic abuse in the year ending in March 2018—women are almost twice as likely to have reported the experience at 7.9 per cent than men at 4.2 per cent. This number is likely to increase during the current European football tournament, and future international competitions, unless something changes.
That being said, is the link between football and domestic abuse strong? Or are there other confounding variables that may influence the statistics? A more recent study conducted by the University of Warwick examined the issue in more detail and with a larger sample size to pin down what might be driving the association between national football tournaments and domestic abuse.
In a blog post for the London School of Economics, Anna Trendl, who is a scientist on the team at the University of Warwick, wrote: “While the link between football fandom and domestic abuse is complex, experts have long pointed to alcohol as an important factor in this relationship. Sport spectatorship and alcohol consumption are inextricably linked, and this is especially true in the context of English football fandom.”
And further data hints towards this being true. On the day of England’s quarter-final victory against Sweden in the 2018 World Cup, hospitals up and down the country reported a record number of alcohol poisoning cases. Several other studies have also highlighted the link between alcohol intoxication and violent behaviour. A report published by the Office of National Statistics in 2018 found that victims of violent crime in England and Wales believed that their perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol in 39 per cent of cases. This leads Trendl to argue that, although alcohol may not be the direct cause of violent behaviour, it acts as an aggravating factor by lowering inhibitions.
In the study, Trendl and her team analysed ten year’s worth of crime data from the West Midlands Police. They focused on England’s national football matches in this period, finding a 47 per cent increase in alcohol-related domestic abuse cases on days when the England teams won in a tournament and an 18 per cent increase on the days after an England match.
From the data, they argued that the link between England football victories and the increase in alcohol-related domestic abuse is likely to be causal. First off, on the days where England won matches, they saw a rise in only alcohol-related cases and not the control group. Likewise, they reported a clear pattern of increase in abuse—which started three hours before a match and peaked during the following hours before gradually declining. This highlights that there is a consistent link between football games and alcohol-related behaviour, a pattern that is replicated across different regions of the country.
Trendl writes: “The exact mechanism by which national football victories lead to an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases is evidently complex, and much of this remains unexplored. What this evidence shows us is that alcohol plays a key role in this relationship.”
So, while football is waking up to political issues such as taking the knee for the Black Lives Matter movement, the issue of domestic abuse, fuelled by alcohol but intertwined with the English football culture should also be brought into public discourse. By all means, enjoy the beautiful game—I’m rooting for England all the way—but this urgently important issue of domestic abuse needs to be addressed.