In the hour before kick-off the supporters’ bar at Leyton Orient is packed.
Stories and match predictions are shared over a few pints before they head into the ground for kick-off.
Not since the mid-1980s have fans of league clubs in English football been allowed to drink alcohol while watching the game.
Hooliganism meant that it had to stop but there is a growing campaign to allow football fans the same freedoms that supporters of rugby, cricket and other sports enjoy.
At Leyton Orient, with kick-off against Forest Green Rovers approaching, the pints are finished off in the bar before fans head in to find their seats.
“I need a drink just to get me through watching this lot”, one Orient regular joked as she headed in but the proposal to trial alcohol in the stands is one that they are seriously backing at this community focused club in east London.
Chief executive Danny Macklin explained that the boost in club revenue would be very welcome, especially after the pandemic, but it’s predominantly about treating fans better and trusting them to drink responsibly.
He told Sky News: “We think the time has come to be able to do that.
“We believe that adults should be given the chance to drink safely in their seat and enjoy that moment – get into the stadium a bit earlier than they would rather than rush and having to get in here at the last moment.
“I would like to see it (the trial) given from January until the end of the season.”
Leyton Orient’s chief executive would like to see clubs have the ability to choose which parts of the ground fans could have a drink in and which fixtures it would work at – he knows that a fierce London derby match might not be the right environment.
“Quite frankly if there’s anyone not obeying by the rules in the trial then that might be the last time they are here and they will jeopardise it for other people,” he said.
The idea of an alcohol trial at League Two and National League level is expected to form part of former sports minister Tracey Crouch’s Fan Led Review into football which is due to be published next week.
The police though have grave concerns, particularly, because they have already seen a noticeable spike in alcohol fuelled violence around matches since lockdown lifted and crowds have returned to football.
Cheshire’s Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who also leads football policing in the UK, told Sky News: “It’s an unnecessary step.
“People can already have a drink on the concourse, unlike in Scotland where it’s banned in its entirety.
“Just at the moment we’re seeing increasing levels of violence, increasing levels of hate crime, it’s an unnecessary risk to take and one, I think, would actually be really foolish at this time.”
Clubs though have seen their incomes plummet during the COVID-19 pandemic and are supported by the English Football League (EFL) in running a trial.
An EFL spokesperson told Sky News: “We believe that a blanket ban on the sale of alcohol for every fixture is not proportionate to the low level of risk the majority of our fixtures present and any new licensing regime could still prohibit sales as and when required.
“Ultimately, law-abiding supporters of EFL clubs should be entitled to the same treatment they would receive at other sports events or leisure activities.
“With fans returning to stadiums at the start of this season after, in many cases almost 18 months away, clubs are looking to rebuild their matchday revenues and we need to consider all options available to us and push for sensible solutions that do not compromise safety or the matchday experience.”
The Fan Led Review is also expected to call for an end to gambling firms being such prominent sponsors within football as well as improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of the game.
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