The future of some of the country’s biggest football matches could be in doubt if clubs are allowed to reduce their costs for policing them, a senior officer has warned.
In a landmark legal case likely to have implications for clubs and forces across the land, West Yorkshire Police are appealing against a High Court ruling which said Leeds United did not have to pay for policing fans away from the immediate footprint of their Elland Road stadium.
The case, which is due to be heard at the Court of Appeal next month, is being closely monitored by other forces and a number of sporting venues and organisations eyeing potential losses or gains.
However, a senior officer has revealed that should the appeal fail, the force - which is shedding jobs amid swingeing budget cuts of 20 per cent - may soon be unable to afford, or justify, policing high profile matches at all.
For a club like Leeds, which has one of the most enduring hooligan problems in the game, it is difficult to see how matches could be allowed to proceed without police support.
The officer said: “I can conceive that providing 400 officers to an event might not be acceptable if you are paying for all of them when a commercial organisation is making a huge profit out of it. The bottom line is whether we provide policing at all.
“The next couple of years will be the most painful. We are going to have less officers on the streets of West Yorkshire and providing 300 officers now will be easier than providing 300 officers in two years.
“If we can’t charge for them, why should we take your police officer off your street to pay for Leeds United?
“How long can the public subsidise football, because that’s what is happening.”
It can also be revealed that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is among those who may look to cut their policing bill in light of the case.
“It’s something we would prefer not to pay if we don’t have to,” spokesman David Ryder said.
West Yorkshire Police Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “I fully support the force’s position on this.”
Leeds United chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “It would be wrong to speculate on any potential consequences for football at Elland Road in the event that the appeal brought by the police fails, in advance of the hearing.
“We continue to pay for police on duty on land owned or controlled by the club, as we have always done.”