Last week Wrexham fan Andy Pierce outlined his opposition to “bubble” matches after the news that his team’s trip to Chester would, once again, be bubbled. This issue goes beyond local rivalries, and Richard Bellis of Chester fanzine Blue & White encourages all fans to back Andy’s petition…
Last year two local rivals were informed by the local police that for their derby match they would have to have a “bubble” in place. Away fans would have to travel from the away team’s stadium to and from the home stadium on official coaches in order to be allowed a ticket.
Fans of both teams were, naturally, disgusted at this imposition on their freedom of travel and complained to their clubs as well as the local press. The teams involved? Newcastle and Sunderland. The outcome? The clubs subsequently rejected the policing arrangements and alternative plans were made. The fans (presumably) rejoiced.
Another very similar situation also occurred last season. This time the teams involved were Chester and Wrexham. The outcome this time though? The fans were ignored as the fan-owned clubs were told that any other arrangements would greatly increase cost, something that neither club can afford.
Before the first bubble match, where Chester visited Wrexham, Dave Owens of North Wales Police claimed that, “It has been reported that the safe travel arrangements were imposed by police: this is not the case”. Each respective board ultimately made the right decision for their clubs – keeping costs down is of fundamental importance for Conference clubs – but they were forced into a corner, unable to have anything other than a Hobson’s choice about policing arrangements. And what choice is no choice?
This season sees the same arrangements in place for the two derby games. This is despite numerous other derbies with higher attendances still being able to take place without such draconian measures in place. Quite why North Wales Police and Cheshire Constabulary think that Chester v Wrexham is some sort of footballing equivalent of the Pamplona Bull Run is beyond me and it smacks of laziness on the part of the police’s hierarchy.
By bubbling they are trying to reduce their policing operation to escorting overzealous fans out of the ground – and isn’t that what stewards are for? At both matches last season the majority of police spent their time standing around. So, what was the point in this show of force?
Given the horrendous curtailment of every fan’s freedom of movement – whether likely to cause trouble or not – the only justifiable reason would be if the operation is significantly cheaper than alternatives. Last year the policing operation for the Chester v Wrexham match – which included paying for a helicopter, Chief Inspector, nine Inspectors, 26 Sergeants, 190 PC’s and four dog handlers – cost £38,840.
The total attendance was 4,326, which meant that spend per head was around £9 and, as Andy Pierce’s superb blog on Monday pointed out, there was one officer for every nineteen fans. £9 per fan, most of whom will never have had their collar felt in their entire life. That is a gobsmacking misuse of police funds.
Luckily both clubs were charged only a fraction of the total cost – Wrexham paid £3,400 for the policing at their ground for example. But that still leaves around £36,000 that the police paid for themselves.
This huge spend surely demands review, especially considering that during 2013 Norwich City’s (the only team’s information I could find online) two most expensively policed games (v Luton and Manchester United) totalled under £24,000 with a combined attendance of over 51,000 (so under £2.12 per fan). As the Lincoln v Grimsby fixtures went ahead without bubbling (as Andy Pierce pointed out), I think it’d be wise for North Wales Police and Cheshire Constabulary to get on the phone to Norfolk and Lincolnshire Police pretty sharpish to check their costs and policing tactics.
But, unfortunately, this won’t happen by itself. Chester and Wrexham aren’t able to stand up to the police in the manner of Newcastle and Sunderland – the threat of additional unwanted expense is just too terrifying for each respective board to risk.
We can be bullied then, and we are being bullied into accepting these restricting, demeaning, disproportionate and, frankly, unnecessary arrangements. Signing a petition might not seem like much of a response, but it is a vital first step. You never know, if we win the argument then all small clubs’ derbies may be safe from excessive over-policing in the future.
- Sign Andy’s petition here…
- If you have issues with policing/stewarding at your club, email the FSF: firstname.lastname@example.org
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