Police state

A recent case involving Wigan chairman Dave Whelan is set to change the way clubs pay for policing on matchdays, writes Bruce Wilkinson

Earlier this year, Wigan lost a High Court battle with Greater Manchester Police over the costs of matchday policing, which could change the way all clubs are charged for their security. Until now they have had to pay only for policing within the ground and the immediate vicinity. In court, GMP successfully argued that it should also be paid for controlling the area surrounding the JJB Stadium, setting a precedent that could allow police authorities to increase charges dramatically.

Dave Whelan, the Latics’ chairman, believed he was being wrongly charged for policing and overcharged in comparison with other local clubs, so refused to pay the full amount. Despite Whelan’s protestations and his local media campaign, the force would not budge. The argument eventually reached such an impasse that GMP threatened to withdraw policing entirely. This forced Wigan to pay the full amount then seek redress through the courts, where they lost.

Much of this had gone unnoticed until a recent BBC Radio Five Live programme highlighted that although clubs pay a substantial amount towards the policing of games, the wider costs of security are met by police budgets. Research shows that, of the figures available for 13 of the 20 Premier League teams, it cost almost £8 million to police games, but less than £4.5m came from clubs. Authorities were left to make up the shortfall, tax payers picking up the tab for such things as traffic management in the surrounding area.

So, despite many clubs moving towards the use of stewards, policing bills remain very high. In 2007-08, Manchester United paid just over £900,000 to the police authority but the actual costs approached £1.5m; Chelsea paid under £250,000 but the costs were over £600,000; Derby’s deficit approached £400,000, while Portsmouth footed the entire £376,000. Strangely, Bol-ton, though charged only marginally more by the GMP than Wigan (about £300,000 in 07-08), paid virtually the full bill, while the Latics left a deficit of almost £100,000.

It’s not just the Premier League sides: many club in the lower leagues leave council-tax payers footing much of the bill. The costs may be on a smaller scale than the clubs in the top division, but it seems that virtually every club throughout the pyramid leaves some kind of deficit. Both Bristol City and Rovers each left a minus balance approaching £70,000 and it is believed that these amounts are mirrored across the country.

Once these figures became public, police representatives sought to use the Wigan precedent to increase charges for all. Stephen Thomas, assistant chief constable of the British Transport police, said on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers that clubs should be meeting the entirety of these costs: “The cash we are given to police our various areas across the country is provided by people through council tax to give a police service to the whole community. If we have to take officers away from them to police football we are not able to recover the cost of that. This means that our normal police budget is being used for football security and we provide a lesser service to the rest of the community.”

The counter argument is that the deficit is covered by the tax contributions made by clubs and by the individuals attending the games who are themselves paying the council tax from which police budgets are taken. A Premier League spokesman says: “Clubs pay for policing inside the ground and on immediately adjacent property. Any other provision is covered by the state, with the Premier League alone contributing more than £700m a year to the Treasury, let alone the tax from the 13 million fans who attend Premier League games each season. Our clubs work with police forces to ensure they call on their resources as little as possible.”

With fears of an impending recession and many fans already feeling the pinch of rising prices, it can only be a matter of time before football begins to feel the financial effects. If police authorities do force clubs to pay the full costs, it will have serious repercussions for those already on the brink of bankruptcy.

From WSC 260 October 2008