One of the highlights of the summer was the Women’s UEFA European Championships and the thrilling performance of the England team. They have rightly won praise, setting an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations.
When the full-time whistle blew, there was spontaneous jubilation around the country. At Wembley, the mood was light and joyous – at long last, the scene of national celebration. Witnessing such joy on the faces of so many England fans reminds us of the power of sport to inspire people.
It also made me reflect on the contrast to the disgraceful scenes we saw before, during and after the men’s Euros final last summer where England were defeated on penalties.
There was utter chaos at Wembley, which European football’s governing body UEFA attributed to a “lack of order and discipline” in and around the national stadium, when handing down their punishment to the Football Association. And it happened in central London too.
The behaviour of many football fans in the West End over the course of the tournament was, unfortunately, extremely poor. Leicester Square became a de facto Fan Zone and was used by some supporters as a place to congregate and often behave in an unruly fashion. As emotions rose, crowds caused hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of damage to business premises, destroyed the public gardens for visitors and discarded vast amounts of litter requiring an expensive clean up.
Anyone who has seen the clips circulating at the time will recall, this was not just ordinary boisterousness – there was an ugly edge of destructiveness. This destroyed some businesses that had already suffered during the pandemic, with many forced to close their doors and lock customers in for their own safety as well as that of the premises. There was a real sense of fear among members of the public, damaging the profile and reputation of the West End, which should be seen as a safe and enjoyable place to visit.
We were clear at the time: this cannot happen again. And immediately after the clear up, it was encouraging to see that discussions began between local bodies, including Westminster City Council officials, Metropolitan Police, the Mayor of London’s office and local landowners to put in place an alternative and more coherent strategy for managing fans in London and the West End.
Mitigation measures can include separating crowds from business districts, making better use of large, open areas, and enhanced protection of vulnerable locations.
With the World Cup in Qatar later this month, it will mean that football fans will congregate again to watch their national teams compete for the highest prize. To avoid the hooliganism of last summer, we need London’s leaders to consider a responsible plan, including extra security, policing and distinct entertainment zones to deal with situations where masses of people choose to gather organically in central London.
Ros Morgan is chief executive of Heart of London Business Alliance