Undercover on a Crackdown on Illegal Scarf Sellers

A look at the council's efforts to tackle unlicensed traders at Stamford Bridge

Trading officer Doug Love with claimed scarves outside Stamford Bridge Stadiu
Trading officer Doug Love with claimed scarves outside Stamford Bridge Stadiu

January 9, 2023

Illegal scarf sellers have been lining up outside Stamford Bridge Stadium charging football fans huge rates for fake clothing. Unlicensed salesmen have been charging tourists and fans up to £30 for half-and-half scarves with misspelt team names on them and trademarked logos, Trading Standards said.

The sellers have also caused an outcry among licensed sellers, some of which pay £1,000 a year for their stalls next to Chelsea stadium gates. They have complained about how their livelihoods are being threatened by sellers undercutting them.

Some of the licensed traders, who make up to £7,500 selling merchandise in just three hours on match days, claim they’ve even been shouted at and targeted by unlicensed sellers. To try and tackle the problem, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, with financial support from Chelsea FC, hold patrols to try and catch the culprits.

Recently one unlicensed trader was fined £14,000 in October for selling scarves outside Stamford Bridge and for other offences at other spots. The traders often travel in from Wales or Essex for big London matchdays. Another trader was asked to pay over £2,300 for selling scarves outside Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge.

To see the scale of the issue and how it is being dealt with, I went undercover with council trading officers.

I met with Hammersmith and Fulham Trading Standards Officer Doug Love and a team of officers close to the stadium two hours before Chelsea’s premier league clash with Manchester City on 5 January.

When asked why the issue was so important Doug explained, “The selling undercuts the licensed holders as well as the football club. The scarves are often of poor quality.”

Dressed in plain clothes we did a lap of Stamford Bridge to see if any regular unlicensed sellers were in the area. Within half an hour the team had spotted several characters who regularly try and sell scarves at the stadium.

But despite our best efforts, and trading officers switching hats and hiding next to bins, we were spotted by one of the seller’s lookouts.

According to Doug, traders work in teams to alert them when council officers are near. While we travelled up the Fulham Road, we spotted several fans wearing half-and-half scarves that looked fake and the officers knew something was up ahead.

A call came through to explain that six sellers had positioned themselves on the route down to the stadium. After taking a long way, around several smaller streets, to the spot, we soon uncovered a regular offender.

Quickly other sellers scampered away further up the road and after a quick spat and several unpleasantries, the trader and his bag were taken aside by the Met Police.

In the past, trading officers have had all sorts of issues with scarf sellers. Most commonly they are asked why they don’t have anything better to do but in extreme cases, they have been spat at and shouted at.

Doug explained, “Someone recently said: ‘I hope you get poisoned when you have your Christmas dinner’.”

But to the officers, this is just an occupational hazard. After another loop of the stadium, we came across a group of sellers close to where the first suspect had been caught.

However, at this stage, we had been spotted several times and as a rookie I stuck out like a bull in a china shop, failing to hide at the right times and often looking confused like a lost tourist.

Unfortunately, when we came close to another seller near Chelsea and Westminster Hospital he was alerted by a spotter and sprinted away. Sellers have also been known to jump into cars or coffee shops to try and avoid the council officers.

For the trading standards team, this is seen as a win. As long as they are away from the stadium they cannot sell the goods and they are not stepping on the toes of the licenced sellers.

One licensed trader, who did not want to be named in case he was targeted by the scarf sellers said, “It dampens my livelihood. I would probably make a quarter more than I do. They are taking the mickey out of us. They just get away with it”

Another trader, who did not want to be named for the same reason, added, “They stand in front of you. There are 15 of them in a row as the game ends.

“It impacts trade massively. I lose probably 40per cent. They use the middle of the road as a stall.”

Doug added, “I have often been given false details and I have never been shown ID, although I ask for it at least on the first time I meet offenders. The Police do, occasionally, assist on securing an address and sometimes even verify it.”

However, with regular offenders, the team only need to take a picture or some CCTV footage of an illegal scarf seller and they can issue a fine of up to £1,000.

During my visit, although I may as well have been wearing a florescent jacket with ‘scarf sellers hide’ on it, the trading standards team were able to catch another seller outside the stadium just 15 minutes before the game.

After a tussle with the police and officers, a scarf seller dropped his bag and swiftly headed towards Fulham Broadway Station.

The seller was yet another repeat offender and can now be fined for several offences. According to Doug, he had been recently prosecuted.

On closer inspection, his bag contained 17 scarves. All the items had “Super Chels” written on them rather than Chelsea and they also included trademarks from Manchester City.

Recently Doug caught a seller with similar items when Chelsea played Ajax in the Champions League. On this occasion, the seller was charging £30 for a fake scarf.

The trading team are unable to keep searching for scarf sellers after the game as there are so many people leaving the stadium that it’s hard to catch anyone. But by confiscating items they are able to hinder illegal scarf sellers before issuing fines.

Following the sweep, Doug added, “I am pleased that we have been successful in restricting the number of sellers operating on the LBHF side, in front of the licensed stall holders, but it’s definitely at the ‘whack-a-mole’ end of the offending I deal with. There will always be another seller popping up somewhere, even if you are successful in deterring a few.”

Jacob Phillips - Local Democracy Reporter

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