For most people, slotting a lit firecracker between their butt cheeks would be the high point of their day. For Charlie Perry, on the 11th of July, 2021, it was merely an aperitif.
As widely documented in videos on social media, on the day of the England vs Italy Euro 2020 final, Perry also stood up high in a throng of fellow England fans and, as they egged him on, did two keys of cocaine to rapturous applause. “It was the biggest day of my life,” he said later, totally happy with his decision. “I was off my face and I loved every minute.”
Perry was far from alone in his open coke usage. As a result of the England men’s football team getting further into the Euros than in any other international tournament since 1966, videos of fans doing lines piled up on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram Stories. The longer England lasted, the more stamina was required of the supporters – and many of them were happy to fuel their endurance with coke.
With the Premier League once again kicking off this Friday, it’s as good a time as any to examine this new IRL meme.
The attributes tend to be: shaky phone footage; male football fan; elevated stance; lots of coke; an eruption of cheering. They can include bodily injury, but this isn’t a prerequisite. What's important is that it’s someone doing cocaine, brazenly, out in the open, and – obviously – that someone’s filmed it.
Because England also did well at the 2018 World Cup, reaching the semi-final in Russia, similar videos of fans did the rounds online. In one, a fan draped in a St George’s flag and straddling a traffic light tipped powder onto his hand and snorted it, to the delight of the fans beneath him.
If there were awards for this medium, this would surely bring them all home: not only does it boast the requisite fan-climbs-tall-structure aspect, as well as a chant of “He’s doing packet”, but it all happens within about ten feet of a police van.
In another video from 2018, a fan did coke on top of a red phone box, not long before jumping off and very visibly breaking his ankle. As he lay on the floor, surrounded by incredulous fans, he did another big line, just to be safe. Yet another clip saw a fan slide gleefully across a wet tarpaulin, sniff a line of coke off a knife, and say, “It’s coming home.”
The appeal of the videos is partly that they bring into the open something we otherwise tend to see only in film and TV. As cocaine is still illegal in the UK, it takes an event like a massive football tournament – where inhibitions are loosened – for the practice to rear its head so publicly.
Of course, football fans have been taking cocaine for decades, not just since 2018. Football, perhaps more than any other sport, has cocaine in its bloodstream. The drug’s presence is an open secret, and traces are regularly found in the toilets of top-flight clubs, while police inspectors and fans have cited cocaine as being linked to an increase in violence at matches.
But the collision of two crucial factors meant that cocaine footage became more prominent in the last three years: we now broadcast everything we film on our phones, often live; and there were simply more England matches for supporters to attend.
Though Perry and others in the videos didn’t necessarily do anyone any harm, the horrific behaviour of some England fans does need to be underlined. At the final this year, 53 people were arrested and 19 police officers were injured; throughout the Euros, there were over 2,300 police incidents linked to the event, making it the worst football tournament on record for crime.
In July, the national lead for football policing called for a ban for anyone using cocaine at football matches. A recent study in the International Journal of Drug Policy pointed out that cocaine reduces empathy – a fact that may have contributed to the violence captured inside Wembley, when fans attacked those who had breached the stadium without tickets.
These findings, and any potential clampdown, are important in light of the next big football tournament: the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. Unlike the relatively lax enforcement of drug laws in Europe, Qatar is likely to take a much dimmer view of supporters who openly film themselves snorting coke. This is a country in which drug trafficking can be punishable by death. Though alcohol regulations will be relaxed, anyone taking drugs could potentially face imprisonment – and this guide notes that “foreign embassies are generally powerless to intercede on their citizens’ behalf when it comes to drug laws”.
Of course, unless fans want to risk smuggling bags across international borders – or are well versed in the practice of dark web delivery – chances are they’re not easily going to be able to get hold of any coke after touching down in Qatar. Which, for their general liberty, can only be a good thing.