Understanding the role of alcohol consumption in football cultures (Alcohol FC).

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: School of Health Sciences


Alcohol consumption in the UK remains high compared to historical estimates and consumption elsewhere in the world. It is argued that the widespread acceptance of drinking in the UK population, combined with liberal changes in government policy related to alcohol (e.g. extended opening hours), has created a 'culture of intoxication' where higher-risk consumption is a normalised and regular occurrence. Understanding the drivers of consumption, and the place it has in society, is important given that higher-risk consumption costs the UK Government an estimated £21bn a year. One setting where alcohol takes a central role is watching or attending football matches.

The cultural acceptance and normalisation of alcohol use coupled with regular exposure to alcohol marketing through high-profile sponsorship deals means that football offers a particularly illuminating location for understanding contemporary consumption of alcohol. This study will extend current understanding by considering the impact of watching football on drinking practices in a wider group of football watchers, exploring differences in England and Scotland, and potential implications for regulatory change. This research is highly relevant given the recurrent political debate surrounding the restrictions on alcohol consumption at football grounds in both Scotland and England. The findings of this study will help to generate evidence to inform policies on alcohol and football.

This research will employ a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, divided into three work packages (WP) to explore how either attending a match or watching a live broadcast of football shapes the alcohol consumption of supporters and attitudes towards the current regulations which govern alcohol and football.

WP1 will start to develop this evidence base by conducting focus groups with football fans to gain in-depth insight into the importance and role of alcohol consumption for those watching or attending a football match.We will also probe the sets of relationships that the sample groups have outside of football, and the roles of alcohol consumption there e.g. with family, friends and in other recreational spaces in order to establish if football is a 'special space' for binge drinking or does it reflect/enable heavy drinking that also occurs elsewhere in other social spaces. WP1 will also include an online cross-sectional survey with a larger sample of football fans divided into two parts. Part 1: Drinking behaviour; Part 2: Fan supporting behaviours, and attitudes towards consumption and regulations.

The purpose of WP2 is to gain in-depth insight into the consequences of alcohol consumption for those watching football from the perspective of those who are responsible for match safety and those who will be instrumental in any potential regulatory changes. In-depth interviews with key stakeholders will be conducted. These will include a range of different organisations with different motivations and interests and examine the assumptions they make about the relationship between alcohol consumption and behaviour.

The purpose of WP3 is to observe what part alcohol consumption plays for fans attending a match, the implications of current alcohol restrictions and to explore factors identified in WP1 & WP2 in a naturalistic environment. This WP will involve equipping and training groups of fans to use video recording equipment in order to document attending a football match and in particular, any alcohol consumption which occurs amongst the group. It will consist of a participatory ethnographic element which will identify contexts, forms and experiences of alcohol use which cannot be picked up in other ways. For example, it could help us identify different kinds of consumption happening such as drinking to get drunk, social drinking to keep in with the group, pre-partying and so on which we could then link with potential anti-social behaviour in discussion with fans.

Planned Impact

This research has the potential to benefit a wide range of organisations. Many of these organisations have already been consulted during the development of the research proposal and have agreed to take part as part of the research advisory group or as stakeholder interviews (see attached letters of support). The beneficiaries of this research include (but are not limited to):

1.Policy makers in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments will benefit from this research by understanding how current restrictions surrounding alcohol at football matches influence the alcohol consumption of football fans and what the likely implications of relaxing policies would be.
2.Football's governing bodies in both England and Scotland including the Football Association, the Scottish Football Association, the Premier League and the Scottish Professional Football League. These organisations would benefit from this research by having definitive evidence on fans profile, what role football plays in their life, why they attend matches and the role alcohol has in that. This would allow them to have a deeper understanding of the 'fan community', allowing them to better meet their needs. It would also help inform their approach to alcohol in their football communities. These organisations believe that this research would benefit fans, football clubs and community partners.
3. Police Scotland and Police forces in England will benefit from the research by having a greater understanding of football fans and their attitudes towards alcohol consumption and how any changes to legislation would impact on the Police and their role in crowd control. In particular Police organisations which specifically deal with football fans on a regular basis such as the Football Co-ordination Unit for Scotland (FoCUS) and the UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) in England. This research will also have wider international relevance for Police forces in other counties who will develop a greater understanding of the drinking habits of football fans from England and Scotland and therefore develop policies to deal with travelling fans.
4. Football supporters groups such as Football Supporters Federation (FSF) and Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS) will benefit from this research. Information gained from the study will help inform these organisations' policy regarding the issue of alcohol within English and Scottish football. The FSF is secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Football Supporters Group which aims to strengthen the voice of football fans in Parliament. FSF Chair Malcolm Clarke sits on the FA Council as the fans' representative (on behalf of the FSF and Supporters Direct). The FSF also has good relations with other campaigning organisations such as Kick It Out, Liberty and Show Racism The Red Card. SDS has a place on the Scottish FA's Congress as a Supporters Representative body and a structured relationship with the football authorities and Scottish Government, any further information on the area will enhance the organisation's insight and knowledge which it can use to better campaign for supporters' views to be listened to.
5. Organisations responsible for match-day safety such as the Football Safety Officers Association and the Sports Ground Safety Authority will benefit from this research by having a greater understanding of football fans, their alcohol consumption habits surrounding attending a football match and how any changes to legislation would impact on crowd safety.

Impact in the wider, non-academic community, particularly in ways which will inform the debate surrounding the availability of alcohol at football grounds, will be achieved through the production of accessible reports, press releases and seminars. There are also potential outlets in the football community such as Football Safety Officers Association seminars, Supporters Direct and Football Supporters Federation events or internal FA & SFA meetings


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