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.
“Football is a cultural ritual for the working class,” Jake Campbell, a Newcastle United fan, explains. “The game was born out of industrial towns and factory workers creating teams among themselves in the 19th century. The roots of the game are embedded in working class culture. It is what we look forward to at the end of the week.”
From roaring stadiums to communities in the local boozers of post-industrial towns—football has been the bedrock of British working class culture for generations. Now, like many things, the sport is being hijacked by the upper class—multimillionaire club owners and executives reside far from where the sport began. Despite backlash from football enthusiasts across the globe, the recently announced European Super League could destroy the sport as we know it—along with its working class spirit.
Sunday 18 April saw the announcement of a new league, which has shaken the sport, the industry and its fans to the core. The league will essentially comprise 20 elitist clubs across Europe, including six from England: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs.
If the plans go ahead, give a kiss goodbye to the beloved underdog club taking home the trophy. The formation of the new competition will mean that elite clubs will not be subjected to relegation or promotion—essentially putting an end to the nail-biting competition that the sport is known for.
The proposals have received widespread criticism: from domestic leagues to football federations, UEFA to supporters across the globe. Even Boris Johnson voiced his concern in an interview wearing a ridiculously oversized high-vis and hard hat only just clasping onto his head—I guess to give the illusion he’s a ‘normal’ working person.
Ironically, this is the same Boris Johnson who said inequality is “essential” to the human order, leading a society riddled with inequality—destroying working class communities through gentrification, breaking record numbers of food-banks and showing a complete disregard for those on Universal Credit.
The answer is money. Or to put it more bluntly; greed. The proposed plans have landed the founding clubs a promised grant of £3 billion by the investment bank JP Morgan. A main figure behind the proposed plan, Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez, claims it will “save football” at a time when young people are “no longer interested” in the sport due to “a lot of poor quality games.” It has nothing to do with adding to his $2.3 billion net worth.
It’s also worth noting that a number of clubs are in considerable debt, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, is sacrificing a sport formed and facilitated by working class cultural tradition the price we have to pay? According to out-of-touch billionaires, the answer is yes.
The announcement of the new league is the tipping point of a feeling that’s been brewing for years. Football club owners don’t care about their fans or the communities that have supported their clubs’ growth for generations. Or at least, they don’t care about those two as much as they do for big bucks. After more than a year of empty stadiums, owners have now realised they can exist on TV income alone.
“No matter how much noise fans make, I doubt they will listen—they stopped caring about the working man long ago,” Campbell argues. “For years they have priced the average fan out of football and this is just the next step. All they care about is lining their own pockets.”
“This is a case of the rich stealing from the poor. It destroys what football was built on: genuine competition. How can the average fan be expected to travel across Europe midweek to watch their team play? The rich always aspire to be richer and that almost always comes at the expense of the poor,” he added.
Jess Cumpson, involved with the football media company GallowgateShots, hopes that the “coming together of so many fans, players and managers from different clubs will mean something.” However, she raises concern that “money talks and ignorance will win.” She continues, “it will completely destroy the game we love: it’s devaluating the history of the beautiful game whilst disregarding its future.”
Connall Pugh highlights how the sport, already riddled with corruption, could be heading for a darker future. Global banks, like JP Morgan, “are the ones bankrolling the league, consisting of the wealthiest clubs in the world. It is the perfect playground for all things shady—money laundering and tax avoidance to name a few.”
“It hurts. It feels like a big part of me has died,” Owen Prescott, a passionate Liverpool fan added. “The lack of promotion and relegation speaks volumes as to the intentions of the league. Football has been the only constant in a lot of people’s lives, including my own, and it is being taken from us. Decades of support, centuries of history, is being thrown to the wayside so that a few rich arseholes can get a bit richer. It’s genuinely sickening.”
As of now, it’s unclear whether those at the heart of the controversy will listen to the voices of fans. What’s more clear is that those across the industry, from executives to fans, are unanimously pissed off. This is yet another example of the rich and privileged exercising their power over the working class—stripping them of their culture and identity for a quick buck.