"Bubble matches achieve little" - FSF Faircop

Bristol City Fans at Cardiff 613 Jon Candy

Last week Bristol City fans criticised the draconian restrictions placed upon their supporters travelling to Cardiff City away - with the upcoming fixture resembling a "bubble match". Our caseworker Amanda Jacks outlines why the FSF opposes such restrictions...

Next Monday evening, Bristol City are away to Cardiff. Travelling fans are not able to buy a ticket for the match, rather a voucher that they have a 30 minute slot to exchange for a ticket in a service station the night of the match.

This effectively forces people to travel to the game by car unless they are prepared to take a train to Cardiff, a taxi to the service station and then on to the ground.  Similar arrangements will be in place for the return fixture next March.  This is not against “human rights” since you don’t have a right to attend a football match and by purchasing a voucher you tacitly agree to the restrictions.  We’ve previously covered the potential difficulties in legally challenging such arrangements.

A statement on Bristol City FC's website makes it abundantly clear that the police are insisting on the arrangements due to disorder in Cardiff when the two clubs met in 2013 which saw 32 convictions for public order offences (there are varying degrees of public order offences encompassing anything from swearing through to extreme violence) with the main protagonists receiving suspended prison sentences and lengthy banning orders which are still in place today.

The remainder of the banning orders handed down were for three years and if any supporters successfully applied for an early termination, then they are now free to attend football matches.

At the time of the convictions, South Wales Police were quoted as saying that “less than 3% of the travelling (BCFC) fans were intent on causing trouble”.

Police in general are frequently quoted as saying Banning Orders work – which they do, 93% of those who’ve served one do not reoffend – so isn’t the police insistence on these restrictions for travelling fans a classic case of having your cake and eating it? If banning orders work, why the need for restrictions?

Rather than putting ordinary and law-abiding match going fans to undue inconvenience and effectively treating them all as would be trouble makers, why not allow them freedom of movement and police them on behaviour presented rather than assuming ‘just because’ there was disorder two years ago there will be again?

Further, Home Office figures show that, in the 2013-2014 season Bristol City had just 12 fans arrested at away games, that’s less than one per game. Surely, that’s indicative of travelling fans who pose little threat?

By comparison, however, Bristol City fans have it easier than supporters of Wrexham, Chester, Burnley and Blackburn, all of whom have full bubble matches when they play each other.

A full bubble means that often regardless of personal circumstances or where supporters live they have to travel to their home ground, take a coach directly to the away club and then are transported back to their home club after the game.  

This weekend, Burnley fans, men and women, the young and the old, will be bubbled to Blackburn and to add insult to injury the cost for an adult ticket – including coach travel – is £41.00.

Such arrangements have been in place since 2009 and although supporters report that conditions have improved and fans are afforded a modicum of flexibility in terms of where they are able to board their coaches, it’s troubling that the reasons for the bubble have moved from preventing disorder to ‘safety’. Is that a tacit admission that the police can’t keep fans and the public safe without such arrangements? If so, doesn’t that raise serious questions that should be addressed beyond football?

We all know that the police have been hit by savage Governmental cuts but this hasn’t stopped forces elsewhere looking at how they approach “high risk” fixtures – even though the vast majority of supporters attending such games aren’t high risk at all.

Huge strides have been made in the north east with supporters of both Newcastle and Sunderland working with Northumbria Police to the extent that old style tactics were dropped and fans on both sides afforded freedom of movement, with the police only stepping in when necessary.

Greater Manchester Police credit constructive dialogue with supporters playing a part in allowing Manchester United to meet Liverpool at 5.30 on a Saturday afternoon and as far as they are concerned the Manchester Derby is just another game of football to be policed without fuss or drama.

Bubble matches achieve little, they’re costly to the tax payer, incredibly resource intensive for the police with North Wales Police utilising their helicopter, closing a main road and escorting coaches from Chester to Wrexham saying that these arrangements “undoubtedly” helped to ensure that the “event” was safe and successful.

Are we really at a point where police can’t keep the public safe unless they travel on coaches? Do they really prevent a small minority intent on trouble getting involved in disorder? Why can’t resources focus on the known trouble makers so the vast majority are afforded freedom of movement?

Supporters effected by these restrictions need to start asking questions of their police, their Police and Crime Commissioners and local MPs as to why they can’t be kept safe and the peace be kept unless they travel on coaches.

More preventative work needs to be undertaken by clubs and police in dealing with problematic fans rather than a reliance on banning orders and a strictly punitive approach. There needs to be far more media coverage and scrutiny and questions asked of the police as to if other forces can manage local derbies without the need for bubbles or voucher exchanges, why can’t they?

It doesn’t matter that only a proportionately small number of fans are affected; as the impact of cuts are increasingly felt and the police continue to argue that clubs should contribute more financially to the cost of policing matches (rather than just paying for policing in and around the ‘footprint’ of their grounds) who is to say that you won’t be facing a bubble match or other interventions from the police?

The FSF have always been vociferous in our objections to bubble matches and other restrictions and if you – as an individual fan, member or representative of an independent supporter organisation – want to work with us in challenging draconian measures (that are not imposed on any other groups in society) get in touch with us so we can work together to ensure our voices are heard and that we’re all policed fairly and proportionally. 

Watching Football Is Not A Crime! is part of the FSF's ongoing drive to monitor the police in their dealings with football fans and work with them to ensure that all fans are treated fairly and within the law. You can contact FSF Caseworker Amanda Jacks via: