Children as young as 10 are being drawn into football hooliganism as violence and disorder at games increase, a police chief has warned.
New figures show that more than 400 games in the 2021/22 season involved disruption and anti-social behavior incidents involving fans under the age of 25 and bans were issued against children as a result.
Mark Roberts, the national head of football policing, said The Independent The “worrying trend” was that teenagers were being used to carry drugs and guns into stadiums.
“We’re seeing younger supporters engaging in violence, banding together and actually looking for pre-planned riots,” he added.
“This is a worrying trend, both in terms of the nature of the violence and the fact that younger people are engaging in it.
“What we see in surgeries is a lot of younger kids. We have identified children as young as 10 years old banging around with groups, we see those in their early teens traveling to away games.”
He spoke after new official statistics showed a skyrocketing number of arrests linked to English and Welsh football matches, including charges of rising violent riots, pitch invasions and the dangerous use of pyrotechnics.
The number of arrests was 59 percent higher than 2018-19, the last normal year of play before the Covid pandemic, and the highest total in eight years.
Mr Roberts, the chief constable of Cheshire Constabulary, said operations in areas such as Nottingham had found children being used to carry drugs and weapons under the “malicious influence of the elderly”.
“The concern is that not only do young people harm others, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation by older and more sinister characters,” he added.
“If they engage in that certain way, that’s a problem for the next 20 years or so.”
Factors believed to be contributing to the rise in football disruption include the lifting of Covid restrictions after a period without games, alcohol and cocaine use.
Mr Roberts warned that post-pandemic violence is not simply “ebbing away” and that serious incidents are already on the rise in the new season, saying the reasons for the spike would “require years of academic study to properly understand”.
PC Adam Collins, a football officer at Derbyshire Constabulary, said earlier The Independent There was a new generation of fans who were kids before March 2020 but are now able to drink and go to games unsupervised.
He said: “Before Covid they were 15 to 16 and they went to games with their parents, then they were 17 or 18 and they had found beers and they weren’t kept an eye on them.
“It was almost like a perfect storm and took us all by surprise.”
PC Collins said school closures during the pandemic meant engagement sessions run by local police forces were halted as they scramble to regain lost years of “communication and education”.
Of the 1,308 football bans in force on July 28, 36 were against children between the ages of 10 and 17.
The number is expected to rise after a change in the law in June lowered the threshold for orders to be imposed, meaning they can be triggered by behavior such as using pyrotechnics or sending hateful messages to players online.
Police see the orders, which have been in place for at least three years, and see fans’ passports being confiscated, as a key preventative and deterrent tool.
Mr Roberts said many football clubs also have programs that try to distract fans, particularly young men and boys, from crime and behavior that could result in them being hit with an order.
“There’s a really strong network of activities where we’re going to try to educate people and not unnecessarily criminalize young people,” he added.
“While the focus is on us criminally arresting, prosecuting and getting a ban on individuals, as with all types of crime, we have the other threads in terms of diversion and investigation.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/football-violence-children-drugs-weapons-b2173348.html Children as young as 10 are being drawn into football hooliganism amid rising violence, police chief warns