London (AFP) – Clubs could spend the same money it pays for an “average Premier League full-back” to have more police at stadia and prevent the disgraceful scenes witnessed at the weekend according to Britain’s leading football police officer.

Mark Roberts told the Daily Mail the clubs were suffering the consequences of more and more clubs preferring to cut costs by replacing police with stewards.

Roberts’s remarks come as debate over security rages following several unsavoury incidents last weekend in England and Scotland.

The most shocking was at Birmingham where fan Paul Mitchell ran onto the pitch and punched Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. Mitchell for which he was jailed for 14 weeks on Monday. 

At the Emirates on Sunday, Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was confronted on the pitch Arsenal supporter Gary Cooper, who has been charged with common assault. On Friday, Rangers captain James Tavernier was challenged by a pitch-invading Hibernian fan in a stormy Scottish Premiership draw.

“Football paid agents £211million ($279million) last year but they are gambling with their policing bill,” Roberts told the newspaper.

“For the cost of an average Premier League full back, the game could be made safer and not a drain on the public purse.”

Bill Bush, the Premier League’s director of policy, told the Daily Mail that uniformed police inside the stadium provided reassurance, not least because they have the power to arrest miscreants whereas stewards do not.

“There is something iconic and symbolically important about the police uniform in the ground,” said Bush.

“However many stewards you deploy, however well you train them, it’s never going to have that same effect.” 

Bush and Roberts are also concerned that when such cases come to court they are not taken seriously.

The judicial authorities were of the opinion “people let off steam at football” and that “it’s only football,” said Bush.

“If it was in a tea-room of a country hotel and people behaved like that then the courts would take a different view,” said Bush.