Time Gentlemen Please

Racing once again hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons on Saturday as violence erupted between supporters of Cardiff City and Swansea City at Newbury racecourse.

If you haven’t seen the unedifying spectacle it can be seen in the attached You Tube video.

It was no surprise that Stephen Higgins, Newbury’s joint-managing director, tried to underplay the situation, telling the Racing Post “There was a disappointing incident of anti-social behaviour which was dealt with by the racecourse security team and local police. So far as we know, there are no serious injuries.”

It was further three days before a fuller statement emerged from Newbury, stating, “We were disappointed by the outbreak of antisocial behaviour at the race meeting on Saturday 14th July.

This was unrelated to racing and was an isolated incident limited to a small number of individuals in an overall crowd of 11,500. Given the type of disturbance, our security team worked hard to control and contain a difficult situation, with a coordinated response from Thames Valley Police.

Our on course medical team dealt with 12 injuries on site while the police dealt with the individuals concerned once the issue has been contained.

Our primary concern was to protect the general public, and attend to those who had been injured.

We have provided CCTV footage and will aim to identify and ban all those involved. We have also identified the coach companies and we will not take advanced bookings from these again.

We apologise for the distress that this may have caused, and assure you that we will continue to review our security and safety provision.

This incident is extremely rare at Newbury and we will do all we can to ensure that there is no repeat. We have stringent security and staff briefing measures to ensure the safety of racegoers and will continue to step up our zero tolerance to bad behaviour policy.”

Frankly that bland statement is not enough and simply blaming what happened on those involved is as good a demonstration of hand washing since a certain P Pilate passed judgement some 2,000 years ago.

Disappointed? You’re disappointed if your horse does not win. They should be mortified and extremely embarrassed.

The reality is Newbury are not completely blameless and have questions to ask. Although it should also be stressed Newbury are, in a way, unfortunate as something like this could have happened at most racecourses. It’s just happenstance that Newbury drew the short straw on this occasion.

In truth any criticisms directed at Newbury could also be directed at most other racecourses. I have little doubt many racecourse managers were breathing a sigh of relief and were thinking, “there but the grace of God go I.”

So turning back to last Saturday.

The troublemakers arrived in coaches - were they already "tanked-up" when they arrived at the course? If so why were they admitted? Also what is banning that particular coach company going to achieve?

If alcohol was served to them at the course - why? It is a breach of their drinks licence to serve alcohol to those who are "worse for wear".

Finally what exactly did the security team do – most seemed to be milling around doing their utmost not to get involved.

Newbury already have “previous” with breaching their licence conditions in selling to under-age drinkers, admittedly they have addressed that issue by instigating a wristband scheme for young drinkers.

As I said this isn't a problem just associated with Newbury - like it or not there is a regular problem with coach loads of drunk Welsh at both Chepstow and Bath, especially at evening and weekend meetings.

I've arrived at a Chepstow meeting before, two hours before racing starts, and seen a coach arrive with its occupants so tanked up and they should not have been admitted to the course.

Let me stress it is unfair to single out Welsh racegoers, it can and does happen all round the country, even more so during the close season for football where the football supporters look for another outlet for sorting out their rucks.

I have only singled out the Welsh because it was pertinent in this case and the Welsh coach parties are "legendary" at racecourses in the area.

Speaking to colleagues since the weekend it appears there was also a nasty undercurrent at both the Newmarket and York meetings as well.

It is understandable the courses will pretend there is not a big issue or will underplay any problems because bar income is a massive earner for them and they don't want to kill the goose which lays the golden egg. Plus the spin boys in the marketing departments only see the good in anything.

I was once the licensee for the Sports and Social club where I worked and I couldn't believe the discount we could get on the alcohol and we weren't a big user. I imagine the discounts available to bulk users like racecourses would be even better. We could charge 30p a pint on top of cost and make enough money to run and staff the bar and still make a modest profit to subsidise clubs and events. At the time we were around 75p a pint cheaper than the local pubs and even more so than local sports venues. So I shudder to think how much they were making a pint.

Personally I cannot see the need to sell alcohol at racecourses - are people seriously saying they cannot enjoy a day at the races without having to take a drug to help get them through the day?

If racing really cannot get racegoers to enjoy the sport without having to drink then what hope does it have?

The drunken brawl is, thankfully, an extreme manifestation of the alcohol problem at racecourses, however why should normal, decent people have to put up with drink fuelled anti-social behaviour be it boorish behaviour, rowdiness or full scale punch-ups?

Why should ordinary people pay around twenty quid, often more, to go into a racecourse and find themselves amongst drunks or even in the middle of a fight?

Thankfully fights are rare but not as rare as many think, more often than not they go unreported but they do happen and are usually drink fuelled. There was a time I used to mention punch-up's in my reports, I rarely bother now.

Should we stop the sale of alcohol completely, that isn't possible as the Pandora's Box is already open. However the current licensing laws should be more strictly enforced and if that doesn't work they should be made tighter.

Large number of those coming to the racecourses to drink could not give a toss about the racing, York, Haydock and Chester are the best, but not the only, examples of this trend.

I really like the system they have at Woodbine racecourse where alcohol could only be consumed in limited, strictly controlled areas and no individual would be served with more than two drinks, which controlled the purchasing of rounds.

Contrast with racecourses here where alcohol vendors walk round the enclosures with kegs on their backs, alcohol can be purchased at some courses in two pint glasses or four pint pitchers.

Some of those mobile drinks vendors can be as annoying and in your face as the charity chuggers. I actually complained at one course after I had been stopped at least half a dozen times and asked if I wanted to buy alcohol.

Yes a big part of the courses income would disappear if they lost their drinks licence but having a drinks licence comes with responsibility.

If any business, be it a racecourse, high street pub, supermarket or club is not prepared to accept and enforce that responsibility then why should they continue to profit from having a licence?

I know of many people who will no longer go racing at weekends because of the alcohol consumption. It doesn't have to be a mass brawl to put people off it's the pervading atmosphere as well.

Hopefully Thames Valley Police and the local licensing authority will take strong action against Newbury and suspend their alcohol licence. Until some drastic action is taken, racecourses will not take their responsibilities seriously. It would hit Newbury hard but it would also send out a strong signal to other venues.


A footnote to last weeks blog about the trainers protest at Worcester, where I hoped the BHA would take action against the trainers involved.

Well the BHA’s reaction was to write them a letter to tell them they were naughty boys and girls and if they misbehave again they will be punished – yeah, sure.

Once again the BHA demonstrates it is lacking in both balls and teeth.  


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