When you think of football, a few things might spring to mind. There’s the booze, the chants, the never-ending stream of tournaments, and of course the tension between fans.

But something that you wouldn’t immediately consider is domestic abuse.

How Football Exacerbates Existing Abuse

Women’s Aid is a national charity working towards ending domestic abuse, so that all women and children may be safe in the future. For years, they have launched campaigns during international football tournaments to raise funds for survivors of domestic abuse, and the 2024 Euros is no different.

‘Major tournaments should be a happy occasion that brings us together in supporting and rooting for our team,’ says Teresa Parker, Head of Media at Women’s Aid. ‘Unfortunately, for countless women and children living with domestic abuse, this is not the reality, as […] existing abuse can worsen or increase in frequency. With one in four women experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their lives, it is vital that their plight does not get lost amidst the excitement; which is why we launched this powerful campaign.’

Research conducted by the National Centre for Domestic Violence discovered a consistent increase in domestic violence after England matches. It found that cases of domestic abuse rose by 38 per cent when our national men’s team lost and increased by 26 per cent regardless of a win or draw. Studies from both Lancaster University and the University of Warwick also found that a spike in the number of domestic violence cases coincided with major football tournaments.

When you realise that almost 84 per cent of football fans in the UK are male, you can begin to understand why there’s a correlation. We’ve all seen relatives and friends get riled up over football. You only have to look at the violence that broke out hours before the England v Serbia match to acknowledge that football can bring out the worst in people. While domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender or sexuality, in the majority of cases the perpetrator is male and the victim is female. During large tournaments, with heightened emotion and potential disappointment across the nation, existing abuse can peak as perpetrators take out their frustration on the women and children in their households.

‘While football matches do not cause domestic abuse, factors such as increased alcohol consumption and the high levels of emotion associated with big matches can cause existing domestic abuse to increase in frequency and severity,’ Parker explains.

Safe Refuge for Women

For Emma Armstrong, fear became a real, tangible thing when the football was on:

‘I always dreaded football season,’ she said. ‘For him it was fun, for me it was fear. Fear of not knowing what mood he would be in when he came home, walking on eggshells [and] not knowing what abuse was coming next.’

Armstrong is the CEO of I Choose Freedom. Founded in 1984, I Choose Freedom is a small, independent charity who have helped thousands of women and children flee abusive situations and restart their lives. With three refuges across Surrey, the charity provides for around 40 victims and up to 60 children at one time, particularly those who are at the highest risk of being murdered if they remain at home. During their six-month stay, survivors of domestic abuse can live in one of the communal refuges or separate accommodation as part of the ‘Refuge for All’ scheme, with permanent access to a key worker and weekly visits from a counsellor. The charity ensures that support is equally available to both children and adults who have fled abusive situations, as evidenced by the fact that they are one of the few refuges who accept teenage boys.

‘We pride ourselves on providing so much more than just a roof over someone’s head in their time of need,’ says Emma. ‘We offer a holistic package of care, with support tailored to the needs of the individual. Our support includes, but is not limited to, emotional support, practical help and therapeutic intervention including counselling and access to the Freedom Programme.’

The Freedom Programme aims to help women with their understanding of domestic abuse, enabling them to process their experiences. This is essential to alleviate any guilt they may feel as they work towards building new, healthy relationships and a future free from abuse.

Look Out for the Signs

Despite continual efforts to raise awareness of the 1.4 million women who experience domestic abuse each year, there is still a lack of education on what signs to look out for. For example, many people don’t realise that domestic abuse isn’t defined exclusively by violence. In reality, a lot of women experience abuse without ever being physically harmed.

‘Although every situation is unique, there are common factors that link the experience of an abusive relationship,’ says Teresa Parker. ‘Acknowledging these factors is an important step in preventing and stopping the abuse.’

Abuse can manifest itself in many different forms, including emotional abuse, economic abuse and manipulative or coercive behaviour, such as blaming the abuse on the victim. During football season, matches become another excuse for the abuser’s behaviour.

‘As a survivor myself, who experienced an increase in frequency and intensity when the football was on, I understand firsthand how scary this time of year can be for those still living in an abusive situation,’ says Emma. ‘Whilst we know that football does not cause domestic abuse, power and control do. What experience tells us is that perpetrators use football as another excuse for their behaviour, blaming their team losing the game as [justification for] why they […] lost their temper.’

Uncertainty Ahead

To assert control, an abuser will often restrict their victim’s freedom by isolating them from friends and family. Without their previous support network, women struggle to leave abusive relationships. Knowing where to turn to for support is therefore vital for survival. From localised refuges such as I Choose Freedom and Hestia, to national charities like Solace and Refuge, numerous organisations across the UK aim to protect adults and children from abuse, particularly during football season. But unlike larger charities, the future of I Choose Freedom can sometimes feel uncertain. Their biggest challenge? ‘Always a lack of long-term sustainable funding’, says Emma.

‘[It] continues to [threaten] our survival, yet we know the reality is that our service is needed more than ever,’ she adds. ‘On average, we receive nine referrals for each space we have, [which means we] sadly have to turn away eight victims and/or families seeking refuge, which is heartbreaking.’

Struggling to provide enough space is a major concern for refuges across England, especially as the 2024 Euros grip the nation.

So next time you flick the channel to Sky Sports or watch football with your mates, think of refuges like I Choose Freedom who work tirelessly to protect survivors of domestic abuse.

They need your support far more than the Lions do.

To support I Choose Freedom, click here.

Refuge has a free, 24/7 helpline. Call 0808 2000 247

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