Southampton to Sunderland is one of the longer trips in English football so you'd think the authorities would be extra careful when scheduling it, wouldn't you? Think again. Ten days after the Capital One Cup fixture was confirmed, it was moved on police advice. In an open letter to Northumbria Police, FSF National Council member Ian Todd explains fans' frustration...
Re: Sunderland v. Southampton (6th November 2013)
Dear Northumbria Police,
Through bitter experience of losing money on non-refundable hotel and travel bookings, football supporters are mostly savvy nowadays about not making arrangements too far in advance.
So when the draw for the 5th Round of the Capital One Cup scheduled both Newcastle and Sunderland at home, the fans of all four clubs must have been cautious about making their arrangements to attend.
There was the possibility that either game could be moved for live TV transmission and there were obviously policing issues concerned with the games both being immediately after the Sunderland-Newcastle Premier League game. All of these factors were known on 26th September.
It was therefore, I submit, reasonable to assume, when, 12 days later, Sunderland announced their game would take place on 30th October that all agencies involved within and outwith the Safety Advisory Group had been fully consulted and agreed this date.
On that basis I, and I’m sure many other remotely located Sunderland fans [Editor's note - Ian lives in Middlesex], as well as the supporters of Southampton, made arrangements to attend the game.
Ten days later it was announced the date of the game had been changed, so making work release, travel and accommodation arrangements invalid. No factors had arisen during that 10-day period that were not fully known in the initial 12 day period so the question has to be asked, “Why?”.
I am advised by the Football League, who were so embarrassed by the change of plan that they phoned me personally to apologise and pre-warn me [Editor's note - Ian sits on football's Fixtures Working Party] that the change was at Northumbria Police’s request.
Such prevarication and then decision reversal is both irresponsible and inconsiderate to the many affected by it. Unfortunately, your force has previous in such situations - I refer you to my letter of 20th September 2011 which noted that it took from 17th June to 30th August to agree a date and kick-off time for the Sunderland-Norwich game on 18th September that year.
Clearly no lessons have been learned, no greater sympathy for travelling supporters engendered.
I should be grateful for a credible explanation of your inability to announce a binding and earlier decision concerning this Capital One Cup game and a firm assurance that every attempt will be made in future to avoid such discreditable public relations.
Yours faithfully - Ian D. Todd
FSF comment - This letter was sent to Northumbria Police's HQ by post and press office via email, asking for comment. It was also copied to the office of the Northumbria Police & Crime Commissioner who said they had sent the email to the Northumbria Police legal team who would "address the issues raised". One week later the police replied...
Assistant Chief Constable Greg Vant said: "We sympathise with the disruption caused to fans associated with the change to the scheduling of football fixtures.
"The police do not have the power to order clubs to change their scheduling. Our role is to identify any safety concerns, make representations to the football clubs and present our objections to Safety Advisory Groups. We did this and also wrote to the Football League outlining our concerns.
"The potential implications for public safety and disorder arising from both Newcastle and Sunderland playing at home on the same evening were obvious to all concerned. We were always of the view that this was an entirely avoidable risk and we raised our concerns and objections from the outset.
"This was clearly the responsible thing to do having listened to and considered the representations made, including a specific request from the Football League to make the change."
Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.