Tom Richmond was 23 years old when he first went on Tour at the start of the Iraq War, straight out of a year’s training at Sandhurst. “It was quite a baptism of fire,” he recalls. For four weeks he had not been shot at or been bombed – two things that would become a regular occurrence. “You’re thinking, brilliant I can’t wait for it to happen,” he adds. “And when it did happen it’s the most horrific thing ever. But eventually you get used to it.”
Three years and a Tour of Afghanistan later, he returned to Iraq as a Captain in the Royal Military Police — a highly trained unit specialising in personal protection, “walking around armed to the teeth” guarding UK Foreign and Defence Secretaries.
At one stage, he led a 10-man team looking after the British Ambassador to Iraq. During the War in Afghanistan he established a network of intelligence contacts. Later, he would protect the British Ambassador to Ethiopia.
It is this level of security professional that footballers will call upon if they need their house protecting, or a bodyguard when they fancy wearing a watch that costs more than the average house out for a meal in the city.
Perhaps not Richmond specifically — “I don’t do as much operational stuff anymore, I’m 43, my back’s not in the best way possible!” — but Royal Military Police are pretty much the gold standard for personal protection.
If not them, the many firms offering protection services hire ex-military or ex-police, or train former boxers and martial arts experts.
Yet, according to security specialists I spoke to this week, despite a raft of high-profile burglaries at the homes of Premier League stars, hardly any of them are paying for security.
“Most players don’t have security,” says Lee Turner, managing director of LSS London.
While sophisticated home security and highly-trained bodyguards are common with “high net worth individuals”, as they are frequently called — billionaires, CEOs, celebrities, some sports figures — many footballers still don’t deem it necessary.
Even though the costs if things turn bad can be extraordinary — both financially and mentally.
Jack Grealish had jewellery worth a reported £1m stolen from his Cheshire home while he played for Manchester City against Everton on 27 December. “This has been a traumatic experience for all of us,” Grealish said, adding: “The people that commit these terrible crimes have no idea of the damage they cause to people’s lives.”
The England forward joined a growing list of stars to be targeted by what experts described as highly sophisticated career criminals. Raheem Sterling flew back from Qatar after his Surrey home was broken into during the World Cup.
Joao Cancelo was assaulted trying to stop assailants while at Manchester City. Tahith Chong had a knife pulled on him in his home. Jesse Lingard had watches and jewellery worth hundreds of thousands stolen. Victor Lindelof was playing for Manchester United at Brentford when his wife had to lock herself and their children in a room when intruders broke in.
After retiring from playing Ashley Cole was threatened with having his fingers cut during a raid on his home. He was holding his young daughter when intruders broke in and tied his hands tied behind his back. In an interview shown at Nottingham Crown Court, Cole said he “was on my knees, waiting to be killed”.
Yet the costs for 24/7 protection of a home do not have to be exorbitant. Richmond, who runs Security and Safety Solutions explains that around two per cent of a property’s value should be spent on security at the property. For most footballers that would run into hundreds of thousands — often less than a week’s wages.
“Then cost depends on the level of service. It could be low six figures for a risk assessment and on-going call-out service,” says Alex Bomberg, 51, owner of Intelligent Protection International Limited.
Richmond’s company offers footballers an annual risk assessment and alarm support for £250 per month. The service is already used by some Members of Parliament.
When an alarm is triggered at a footballer’s home, a central hub gains access to the property’s CCTV cameras where officials can assess the threat and activate spotlights and speakers warning the intruder they have been seen. The police are called and, because it is a monitored property, the call is red flagged for priority.
“When our clients are away from the house for two days, we know their home and property and family are more vulnerable,” Richmond says. “Therefore the security measures we do in that period are much greater than when they’re at home. It’s the same for Premier League footballers.
“You get their fixture list, when they’re away from home and you know they’re away from the house for a period of time, at that time you can put more measures in place to reduce the risk and to give them confidence you’re doing extra things to look after their property and family.”
While more expensive, Turner is an advocate of having someone — or a team — in the vicinity of the property. “CCTV, patrols in a clearly-marked vehicle. Once security is visible 99.9 per cent of the time you won’t have any issue.” If there is a problem, someone is there to intervene. In areas where wealthy families live in close proximity some combine the cost so a patrol can cover a street or neighbourhood.
Those that target Premier League footballers are often organised gangs. “It’s not out of control, but it’s got to the stage where these gangs are pretty brazen,” Bomberg, a former infantry soldier whose company first started working in hostile environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan, says. “There are gangs coming in from Europe and South America.”
“The people who target footballers are career criminals,” Turner says, explaining how they locate properties (they can sometimes be identified from social media posts), check access and exits on Google maps, scan social media for the watches, jewellery and clothes the target and their family wears, the cars they own.
The house will be staked out in person — sometimes a gang member pretending to be delivering a parcel — then they wait until it is empty. Which is quite obvious when you are a footballer playing live on television. Especially if you are a footballer who has posted on your social media that your family are away with you in another country playing in the Champions League.
It baffles the experts why more footballers aren’t paying for security, or indeed why security is not led by clubs constantly striving to invent ways to improve performance.
“A lot of them don’t worry about security until something happens,” Turner says. “Then they’ll go and buy a dog.” He cites Dele Alli, who bought a huge Doberman after his home was attacked by burglars with knives.
Bomberg adds: “That’s great, but a dog isn’t going to call the police for you at three o’clock in the morning. A dog is a dog. It’s like CCTV — it’s there as a deterrent. It’s not going to do a great deal. You need people on the ground making decisions.”
Richmond says, “It’s not complex so it astounds me that this continues to be a problem. Especially as it’s so high-profile, you’d think footballers might look at this and think, there’s a pattern in Premier League footballers being targeted at certain times so we need to do something about it.”
They offer a multitude of suggestions as to why footballers are not better protecting themselves. “Ego” is one of them. Age is another. “Business executives tend to be older people so they’re risk averse,” Richmond offers. “Footballers are younger, they’ll take more risks. They’re probably a bit more confident in themselves so they’ll think it won’t happen to them or if it does they’ll be able to do something about it.”
Turner says his firm have “had clients who have had their kids tied up, one had a gun to their head. It’s after that they decide to pay for security”.
Bomberg adds: “They’ve got this ‘Dave’ thing going on. They always employ their mate Dave to do security. So they have a bad experience of it.”
There is — perhaps crucially, if things are to change — the performance enhancing element to security that has been badly overlooked.
“It particularly surprises me that this isn’t club led,” Bomberg says. “You’ve got a small percentage of people there who don’t really realise they’re an asset. If they were to get stabbed or beaten then they couldn’t play for two or three weeks, or they couldn’t play again. Their talent is their asset.
“People still feel like it won’t happen to them, but when it does happen to them at this level it’s really serious. It’s not necessarily the monetary value of what’s taken, you’ve got the mental impact on the family which is probably something that’s not talked about as much.
“When you’re looking at elite sportspeople and tiny fractions of percentages in improving performance having something like this to think about, for example Sterling at the World Cup. The impact of that might have had on other players at the World Cup thinking their family is at home, they’re potentially vulnerable, I haven’t done much with my security.
“The impact that might have had on their mental focus on the game, when you look at all the other things they do to improve their game it doesn’t make sense you left security out.”
Aside from home security, the other side to the business is body guards. While you may pop to a restaurant for a meal with your other half it is unlikely you will be wearing an accessory worth a small fortune.
Cristiano Ronaldo owns a Rolex GMT-Master II Ice that is worth around £400,000. The rainbow Rolex Harry Kane wore at the Qatar World Cup costs £535,000.
A protection operation can range from one person to a team, using specially trained drivers who can tell if they are being followed and ensure they do not get boxed in. “If they are going to a restaurant we will have a person in the restaurant in there already, liaising with the person driving the car,” Turner says.
“It’s about ensuring everything is as smooth and seamless as possible for the client. Making sure you’re aware of potential dangers and threats, knowing where exits are. If something happens you can get the client out and to the car as quickly as possible.”
He adds: “Some people want big beefy guys that look like bouncers. Others want something more discreet.”
It can also be crucial if a major event turns nasty, such as at the Champions League final in Paris when chaos erupted outside the Stade de France for which Liverpool fans were wrongly blamed.
“We had guys working there at the time for clients,” Bomberg says. “It was a very dynamic situation. Where the official pick-up was of the VIPS, those gates were locked because they were firing tear gas outside the stadium.
“We had to manoeuvre people inside the stadium to other exits and have another pick up from another area. Because of violence outside the stadium we had to change our plan to leave. We had four people with this particular client. You’ve got to be very dynamic and able to change plan.”
For those who once worked in war zones the tools at their disposal are not what they once were. “Working with the government, I had two helicopters and the American army on call,” Richmond says. “It’s very different doing it in that government setting than doing it in a private commercial setting now when the resources you’ve got are just the resources that the client is willing to fund.”