Premier League fans have revealed their fears about supporters’ behavior on the eve of the new season, with drug use and pyrotechnics both growing concerns ahead of Friday night’s big kick-off.
In the second installment of a Telegraph Sport Premier League fan survey, supporters from all 20 clubs were invited to detail their first-hand experiences following the return of full stadiums and a season marred by repeated episodes of disorder.
Only 10 percent of respondents reported an improvement in fan behavior, compared to 90 percent who said it had worsened or remained the same. More than half also said they had seen or heard sexist, racist or homophobic abuse inside a stadium in the past year, although fan representatives also largely agreed that such behavior continued to be perpetrated.
“Something has changed since the fans came back”
The survey found that ticket prices, club ownership and ever-changing broadcast times were the biggest concerns alongside fan behaviour.
“It’s obvious that drugs are replacing alcohol as ‘the industry’ at football matches,” said one fan. Another said they knew of supporters who were “seriously thinking about giving up away games” due to the level of disorder, and reported being knocked to the ground when another fan tried to confront home supporters.
“This was symptomatic of the aggressive atmosphere I saw all too often last season, with drug-addled fans more interested in confrontation than the game itself,” the fan said. “Something has clearly changed since the fans returned to the field.”
Another fan said that “smoke bombs, drug use and pitch invasions are far too frequent”, but also stressed that the majority of matches went off without a hitch. “There is a danger that well-publicised bad supporter behaviour, such as [we] everyone agrees that it is not appropriate, paints a picture of a significant number of supporters behaving badly. “This is not a fair comparison or accurate,” said one supporters’ union representative.
The Telegraph revealed in January that cocaine use was identified by police as one of the factors behind an increase in disorder, but that there was also an increase in offenses relating to pyrotechnics, alcohol, pitch invasions and hate crime.
The Football Association, the Premier League and the English Football League announced new measures last week which will mean fans will be automatically banned for using drugs or if they are found with fireworks or flares, commonly known as ‘pyro’. The increase in pyrotechnics was particularly highlighted by many fans in the survey.
“After Covid, there has definitely been a change in fan behaviour,” reported one supporter, who has been attending top flight matches for decades. “The use of pyrotechnics is increasing, and the poisonous song 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 sense that it was now rarer and that such chants were generally seen as unacceptable and quickly silenced. “The trend towards safety and inclusion has a lot of support behind it,” said one fan.
“Ticket prices are taking the game away from many fans”
Supporters from each of the 20 clubs were asked to rate the issues of greatest concern, and although fan behavior was ranked fourth most important, it was behind ticket prices, club ownership and kick-off times which often change 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 struggling supporter is astounding,” said one fan. Others described it as a “scandal”, adding that it “creates untold difficulties for the supporters”. Ticket prices were number one, 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 prices are taking the game away from many supporters and creating a whole generation of TV supporters,” said one fan.
There were also calls for the government to move forward with establishing an independent regulator and tighter controls on potential Premier League owners. “The Newcastle debacle perfectly illustrates why the ownership rules need to be completely rewritten, with a mandate for fans to at least own part of their club,” said one fan.
Lingering ill feelings from Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City’s failed attempts to join a European Super League were also evident.
Fans were asked to name the club they disliked the most in the Premier League, with Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool mentioned the most, followed by City, United and Arsenal. “Everyone was trying to kill English football with Super League,” said one fan. However, it was a clear winner for the club most admired by neutrals, with Brentford outscoring the likes of Brighton, Leicester and Liverpool, polarizing opinion both positively and negatively.
“A well-run club that lives within its means, tries to play attractive football and has welcoming fans,” said one Brentford fan. A supporter representative for another Premier League club added: “A proper community club with good ticket prices, and a solid recruitment and sustainability policy. They also have a fan director on the board and have embraced the Golden Share issue. They have a thoughtful and intelligent leader and I hope they will continue to thrive.”