It is very ironic that Burton Albion should be the visitors to Cambridge United when the breathalyser scheme is tested as Burton is renowned as one of the biggest brewery towns in England, however perhaps football supporters should be worried about a scheme which if adopted could make many supporters worried about trying to enter a football ground if they have had a pint or two before the game.
Stewards at Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium were presented with breathalyser devices called AlcoBlows to test fans as they entered the ground. Anyone who looked to be drunk was to be asked to blow into the device. If they were found to be twice the legal drink drive limit, they would be refused admission.
Sergeant Ian Wood of Cambridgeshire Police said there were a number of alcohol-related laws around sporting events and these included the offence of trying to enter a sports ground while drunk.
He said: “My concern is that fans will be unaware of these offences and I hope that the introduction of the devices will help stewards make empowered decisions about who should enter the ground and educate fans about the ramifications of being drunk at sporting events.
“We accept that a responsible fan may consume a moderate amount of alcohol before a game, however, we are focusing on the overly-intoxicated people who are most likely to become problematic during or after the game.
“The breathalysers will detect anything above twice the legal drink-drive limit.”
But supporters groups have hit out at this scheme. Amanda Jacks of the Football Supporters’ Federation said: “Last season there were only eight arrests at Cambridge United home games, and a further eight at away games.”
Clearly alcohol has not been a problem at Cambridge United games this season but apparently the trial will go on indefinitely and continue next season.
Cambridge united Groundsman Ian Darler who also doubles as the Club’s safety officer denied that this was a case of breaking a butterfly on a wheel.
He said: “We are offering supporters a better opportunity for getting into the stadium. I would rather try to be fairer with people than basically guessing. It’s less intrusive than getting a steward to ask a fan if they have had a drink.”
Only fans who appear to be overly intoxicated will be asked to blow in the devices.
This year, only two arrests were made at the family-orientated club, Mr Darler added. Before the game on Saturday he said he would have been amazed if it was used more than 10 times. In fact, in a crowd of 7,109 only seven people were asked “and none of them were refused entry”, he said.
The breathalysers will also be used by staff to check whether “soft drinks” brought
Worrying news for many football fans in that although most would welcome supporters who are very intoxicated from entering a stadium, there is the question of just how much constitutes being drunk and this type of system could be used to penalise supporters who are a little boisterous when entering a stadium with stewards effectively able to apply their own standards as what they consider to be “overly intoxicated”
There could also be accusations of clubs using the scheme to force supporters to enter grounds early and partake of the overpriced alcohol avaialble in the stadiums with implications of “binge drinking” in a short period before kick off.