If there's anything the English love more than watching soccer, it's doing lines of coke before, during, and after watching soccer. But a sudden shortage of blow in the UK in a time of high demand has dealers looking for options.
If there's one thing English people love more than cocaine, it's soccer. The problem is, fans up and down the country might have a tough time getting a buzz on during the World Cup thanks to an unprecedented coke drought. Traditionally, the tournament is a boomtime for dealers, and you'd expect a combination of sunny weather and games that potentially won't finish until 3 AM local time to fuel demand among all-day drinkers who don't want to fall asleep in public. But a string of international and domestic drug busts has led to a shortage just as the tournament gets underway. Though the North and the Midlands are the hardest-hit regions, prices are soaring and purity levels are plummeting all over the country.
Low-level drug-dealers are feeling the pinch. K, a twentysomething cocaine dealer who works up in Birmingham, told me, "I have not known a drought like this ever. There is just nothing about. We started shorting the amounts and cutting what we had left a couple of weeks back, but now we can't even get anything to do that. The World Cup and European Championships are usually mental for demand and as the games start late at night, I should be caning it for the next month.
"The England-Italy game is a 11 PM Saturday kickoff, so if it's a sunny day people will start early and I should be getting repeat sales throughout the evening into the morning—and if we win, even more for the celebrating afterwards."
The dealer, who normally sells five to seven ounces of cocaine a week in grams costing £50 ($85), added, "My phone has been red-hot from punters and dealers wanting coke for the weekend, but I and every other dealer I know can't lay our hands on any. We keep on being told to wait, but it is not looking good for this weekend.
"Then when everyone gets paid at the end of the month there will be even more madder sessions that people will want coke for—it is unthinkable the drought will still be going on then."
K reckons that the lack of cocaine on the streets will spell trouble for the police and pub owners. "People rely on coke to get them through all-dayers and -nighters; people use it every week—so take that away and people are going to be plastered drunk. The amount of fights will be insane, and if England loses then I bet a few [pubs] will get smashed up—it's standard."
Further up the food chain, a Staffordshire 40-something drug dealer, whom I’ll call Danny, is also frantically trying to lay his lands on coke. Danny sells nothing below a kilo. He told me, "It’s becoming like a crisis, man. The boat [that the police] caught coming in from Colombia last month has fucked everything up."
Danny began selling weed in the 90s and progressed to cocaine eight years ago after several other dealers were jailed. "I didn't think one shipment could cause such a shit storm, but that is the reason, we are being told," he fretted. "I've got contacts who I deal with and trust, from up north to down south, and everyone is saying the same thing."
The shipment Danny's talking about was a £30 million ($51 million) boatload of cocaine bound for the cisterns of England that was seized on May 9 from a ship anchored off the Scottish town of Largs. The Cape Maria had set out from Colombia the previous month carrying a cargo of coal, but also had 108 kilos (240 pounds) stashed away in the rudder area. The crew is believed to have been totally oblivious to their contraband cargo.
In a joint operation the Scottish Police, Border Force agents, the National Crime Agency, and Dutch authorities arrested three Dutch nationals in the nearby Seamill Hydro Hotel in Ayrshire. Diving equipment, a rigid inflatable boat, and an underwater “scooter” were also recovered from the hotel. The three Dutch guys appeared at Leeds Magistrates Court the following week and were remanded in custody. They were believed to have arrived in Ayrshire posing as tourists.
The National Crime Agency estimate 25 to 30 tons of cocaine is smuggled into Britain every year. "The UK is one of Europe’s largest and most profitable markets. Traditionally, most of the cocaine destined for Europe, including the UK, has crossed the Atlantic by ship and entered via Spain," a spokesman for the NCA told me. "The most significant method currently used to smuggle bulk amounts is in maritime container ships arriving in European hub ports, such as Antwerp and Rotterdam, before being moved into the UK."
The UK's coke supply is also dwindling because of a massive bust in April, one of the biggest cocaine seizures ever made by the Colombian authorities. Seven tons of cocaine, with a street value of more than $250 million, was bound for Rotterdam but discovered in 6,900 packages hidden among pineapple preserves. The bust took the amount of cocaine discovered by the Colombian authorities to more than 25 tons in this year alone—already making 2014 one of the best years for busts ever.
In Staffordshire, Danny is counting the cost and is concerned about the ramifications of the drought. "This business is dangerous enough, and a drought like this is bad news for everyone, from the dealers to the users," he said. "There is a race against time to get coke in place for the World Cup, and shite synthetic stuff will end up being passed off as coke. The big winners will be the Albanians, who already have a big enough chunk of the market—they will fill the gap with proper crap."
Danny also told me that the shortage would inevitably lead to violence. "Dealers will also have to deal with new contacts, which always brings rip-offs, robberies, violence, and feuds. The police might think they are winning because there is a temporary drought but they have no idea of the consequences on the street."
He added, "No one wants to see pissed-up idiots fighting everywhere. It's better for everyone if all these football fans can just have a beer and a line and enjoy the World Cup like they have been planning to all year."
Follow Steve Zacharanda on Twitter.