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July 2021

The new ruling on police costs could result in football grounds being shut down

Please note: if you have a comment on the Arsenal v Man City game, please go to the page on the match


By Tony Attwood

It seems a long long time ago, but time was when there were police inside the ground at Arsenal games.  Sometimes lots of them.  Now I never see any, and I am not sure if they are there.  All we have are stewards, some of whom are helpful and good at their job, some of whom are there to chat to their mates.

The police at Arsenal games are, as we all know, outside the ground, sitting on horses that make a mess on the street which it is easy to step in, blocking St Thomas’ and other roads, arresting supporters for handing over tickets that they can’t use to their mates, and the like.  (Although I am sure they are all jolly nice people and their activities are really very necessary).

But for some time there has been a question – should Arsenal pay for these police – police who are not on Arsenal premises and who are not asked by Arsenal to be there.

The law of the land has always been that the state pays for policing of the public streets, while the organiser of an event pays if police are required within that event.

But it seems the police, or at least their employers, have not been happy with this, and they have been charging football clubs for policing the roads.

Now Leeds United have fought back and taken the police to court.  And they have won a High Court case against West Yorkshire Police over whether they or the police authority should pay for policing around the stadium on match days.

If you have been to Elland Road you’ll know it is in a strange sort of environment which is quite different from the Ems, and indeed many other grounds.  It is away from the city centre, and I have found that driving there one just comes across it with odd car parks and a pub nearby and some bits of land that I think Leeds own.  I can’t see that much policing is needed there – but then I am not a policeman.

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Anyway Leeds has argued that policing streets and car parks near its Elland Road ground is a public duty of the police, as it has always been.  Mr Justice Eady agreed and ruled that the cops have to repay the club and can’t charge them any more.

So what we all used to think was the case (that the police can’t charge businesses for policing outside their premises) is still the case. The simple test to be applied is, is the land owned or controlled by the club or by others?  If the club, the club pays.  But no more.

But here’s another point.  Supposing you have a club where there is no history of trouble in and around the ground.  The cost to the public purse is limited.  The Met Police can go on putting coppers on station platforms if they want, and have barricades of them in the streets leading up to Seven Sisters, but that is up to them.  They can’t charge Arsenal, and it may be that they will now think again about whether so many police hanging around the streets all claiming overtime rates, paid for by the club, is necessary.  I’ve written before about the lunatic fringe of young policemen who run around screaming at people having a quiet pre-match drink (although as I have also always said, the older wiser guys who police the area are generally helpful, reasonable and very much aware of their purpose.

But what of clubs that have a history of violence and affray?  Now the public purse has to pay to police those grounds and their volatile support.

So what is to be done?  Certainly one possibility is for the police to try and get CPS (who bring prosecutions in the UK) to take legal action against clubs.  They might start looking to reduce the number of spectators that can go in the ground not because of safety within, but because of safety outside the ground given that they can’t afford to put many police in the streets.

Certainly West Yorks Police were grading games at Leeds according to risk factors, and policing (and charging) accordingly, and that suggests they might not like the cost of specific games, and say, sorry we can’t do this one.

I go down this route because WY Police said after the hearing, “We welcome the fact that the judge recognised the invidious position the force faces and the possibility of the force being unable to support the club’s existing match arrangements in the present economic climate.”  In other words the police might oppose a licence for the match to be held on the grounds that they can’t afford to police it.  Also the local authority could refuse permission for a game to be held if they felt that the police were unable to put in enough constables to control the event.

The judge said there was no single drain on West Yorkshire Police’s resources greater than that of policing games at Leeds.  Maybe those who muck about a bit too much could find themselves getting their club shut down.


If you think you know your Arsenal, it is time to think again. Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.



17 comments to The new ruling on police costs could result in football grounds being shut down

  • Steve LUFC

    Fair comments. But remember Leeds have publicly stated that they have no objection to paying for policing on their property and in the immediate area of the stadium, which included carparks. I think what the main issue has been is the police charging for policing in areas further afield like the railway station and citycentre which you quite rightly statle are a long way from Elland Road.

  • mick palmer

    Good article im a leeds fan and the policing is over the top 3 weeks ago Elland Rd staged its annual jehovahs witness gathering and would you believe there were mounted police outside? think the police just like the overtime rate lol

  • Sebastian

    It wont happen, because if they said to Arsenal “we cannot police your games as we cant afford it, so either you cant play, or you play with 30,000 fans” Arsenal would just offer to pay the police for the service, as you suggest they already do.

  • Jed Shed

    I fear the only winners out of this case will be the lawyers, as usual.

    Football clubs no doubt pay their taxes dutifully to the local authorities in which they operate, in much the same way as pubs and clubs do. If the local constabulary feels it is unable to uphold the licensing conditions for any of these operations then I can envisage further action being brought against them as the question of what those taxes are for is mooted.

    I can see both sides of the argument but sadly will only end up paying the legal establishment to resolve.

  • s j little

    Police do more to cause trouble than avoid it.
    At the Millium Stadium Cardiff police abscence was noticable and there was never trouble.
    Yorkshire teams like Leeds though are more troublesome than usual.
    It is never given publicity but Arsenal v Liverpool games are always enjoyable as the fans of both clubs get on so well.

  • MICK

    All the main car parks at Elland Road are owned by Leeds City Council part of the legacy of adminstration. Do the police charge at other venus for FA Cup Final, Rugby League Finals, Test Matches, Rugby Union, Ascot for policing away from the grounds? A level playing field helps.

  • Paulx

    Excellent piece and something that many have missed. The phrase ‘Be careful what you wish for’ springs to mind. The Police cannot really win with football and I can from personal knowledge guarantee that the heirachy would prefer not to have anything to do with football at all . They will relish the opportunity Bates has given them to pull back and to stop having to devote so much to games and allow those resources to go back to policing. If crowds have to be reduced and safety certificates are affected because the Police do not have enough officers or money to do it then so be it.
    As far as Leeds United and Bates are concerned , there is some irony that they fight this case yet it was Bates and his accomplices who took the club into administration …fleecing the taxpayer for £8,000,000 (yes thast 8 Million) and wants £1,000,000 back from the taxpayers of West Yorkshire. Bit rich eh!

  • I do agree that this could get complex, and I am not at all sure who would judge what if the police said, “60,000 at the Ems is too much”.

    The fact is that with the building of the Emirates there was a huge debate in terms of public safety, resident requirements and everything else. It wasn’t just that Arsenal said, right we’ll have a 60,000 seater here.

    The club had to agree (for example) to do all sorts of things in the surrounding area, and arrangements concerning the Underground system were central to this. Anyone who has been will know that Holloway Road station, for example (the nearest to the ground) has very restricted access around match times.

    So local government has said, 60,000 is safe, and I am not sure that the police could make too many demands which Arsenal would have to pay.

    I have only been to Leeds as an away fan, and obviously not for a few years but I always felt that I was being criminalised even while I was trying to find somewhere to park my car – and I got this feeling because of the police presence. Some grounds give me that feeling, some seem not to.

    Of course if there is a real threat of violence something has to be done to protect those who don’t want to be involved. But I also feel that sometimes the police can be as pumped up as certain fans.

    I’m glad Leeds took up the case because the law was and is clear, and the police authorities were going way beyond their remits in charging clubs.

    I suspect this may have been harming some small clubs too – clubs in the conference for example who really don’t need any police presence at all, but who were being pushed into paying for it for games involving very modest crowds.

  • nicky

    I recall the days when the only police presence inside Highbury was the Met Police Band.
    Mind you, the size of some of the bandsmen would have been useful in time of trouble.
    But in those days there was never trouble. That was to come later.

  • Tony O`Shea

    As far as Leeds United and Bates are concerned , there is some irony that they fight this case yet it was Bates and his accomplices who took the club into administration …fleecing the taxpayer for £8,000,000 (yes thast 8 Million) and wants £1,000,000 back from the taxpayers of West Yorkshire. Bit rich eh!

    Irony- yes Right- Get your Facts right it was £6,000,000 which is still owed if Leeds get back to the Prem before 2017
    also lost out by getting relegated with 10 point deducion and the following year to Forest in getting promoted in league One and the money that brings courtesy of 15 point deduction- Leeds got away with nothing with the Taxman and Police overcharging the club had to be challenged.


  • Tony C. V. Liam B

    A lot of problems at matches throughout the country are down to too much booze before games. Why should Leeds or any other club pay for a problem that starts in a pub. When the said pub shuts on a Saturday night there’s a heavy police presence and the gen public foot the bill.

  • Adam

    @Mr Attwood, You might likt to research the British transport police, and there relationship with the now privatised sector of our rail industry. We as tax payers have been paying to police a private industry for a while now. why should football be any different?

  • Adam, I believe you are right that the transport police are a private organisation, but I really know little about them.

    My heart sinks when anyone says, “why don’t you write about” (or investigate), because there are so many thinks to investigate and consider.

    Would you like to research the issue and write a piece for Untold?

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    Before jumping to any conclusions, one would have to know first hand the terms of the licenses granted to teams’ stadia.
    Club A – notorious hooligans the lot of them, with a very hostile derby with club C might be under some very strict terms of license dictating that they are required to pay for any and all extra matchday policing, regardless of where this takes place – Leeds’ license obviously does not contain this clause.
    Club B – a kind and friendly family club, may only be required by the terms of their license to pay for additional policing inside the ground or on club property, if the Police deem it necessary.
    In which case the legal people can argue all they want about how unfair it is on club A that club C gets the streets outside the ground policed for free but their license is invalid if they don’t pay and the Police would be perfectly entitled to shut the match down.

  • Adm

    @Mr Attwood, I appreciate the offer but no thankyou for the moment. Last year I finished a little project for the BTP, 20 holding cells they said were for those being caught without tickets (trespassing) I asked a few officers who kept passing by this project “why are we policing a private industry” and no one could give me an answer even though they agreed with my confusion over the issue. There were 20 or more of these hidden BTP holding centers doted around the country, I believe they were designed for our Olympics as these buildings are unrecognisable as police stations and are pretty much indestructible, You would have to drive a truck through the walls to get into them. Why they would need that sort of security for trespassers is a puzzle?

  • Adam

    When will we see armed officers on stations?

    We have to select and train officers, go through a procurement process for equipment and put in place the procedures and protocols involved in firearms operations. This will take some time, but we anticipate that the first armed BTP officers will be deployed in early 2012.
    You mentioned police at train stations in your article i thought you might find the above of interest?

  • Goona Gal

    @ Tony – thanks for this article. I recall last year that I was in a party of five people (one was a lad of 7yrs old) on the tube to the Emirates having a laugh and a joke, when nine police officers got on our carriage and surrounded us in the most hostile way. Totally unnecessary and over the top.

    I do believe you need a police presence at games, especially since we have such uncultured rival football fans on our doorstep, but I’ve also thought for a while now that Arsenal matches were a way for the police to top up wages. In fact it’s one of the things that irked me regarding the riots last year. Surely with the numbers that turn out on match days to prevent riots – are the police now saying that none have the right uniforms or were trained how to deal with a situation?

    I might be wrong but I think they were some of the reasons given, so my issue has been what on earth are football clubs actually paying the Police for? If push came to shove, could they and would they be able to deal with a situation. It would be the club’s right to seek assurances in the very least that the Police have trained officers around the ground, with the correct gear and to justify their numbers.