I very much doubt at the start of the season that anybody would have anticipated that there would be anything particularly remarkable or noteworthy about the Huddersfield Town v Hull City fixture in late March, or predicted that it would have dominated local media coverage in the way it has.
We’ve covered the issue of the Huddersfield ‘bubble match’ extensively (from the news that Louis Cooper, a 15 year old fan, was taking West Yorkshire Police (WYP) to court over the restrictions, to the “shabby compromise” offered by WYP, which led to the club officially backing their fans and slamming the draconian restrictions, even going as far as wearing ‘Watching Football Is Not A Crime’ t-shirts in the pre-match warm-up).
As a result of all the disquiet over WYP’s actions, a protest was organised by prior to Hull’s home game v Nottingham Forest, with a further joint protest in Huddersfield on the day of the now notorious fixture. The plan was to meet outside the train station (which has a large pedestrian area in front of it) and then to march peacefully to the local library where short speeches would be made by Louis, his father and me.
I travelled to Huddersfield with Professor Clifford Stott to observe the policing operation on the day, and we arrived early in the town centre around midday. Even though the town was relatively quiet for a Saturday lunchtime and there was barely a football fan in sight, there were plenty of police on duty in the immediate vicinity of the station. They were on foot and horseback, and were supported by both a CCTV van and a second van for transporting anybody who was arrested.
Walking round the small town centre we observed many more officers either stationary on street corners or patrolling in pairs. Cliff spotted officers he thought were from the Tactical Aid Unit, presumably there ‘just in case’, although just in case of what, I’m not entirely sure!
As planned fans started to arrive for the protest at around 1.20pm, and were a mixed bunch of men and women, and supporters of both clubs. Signs with each person’s profession were carried so that the protestors could demonstrate that they were ordinary people first and foremost and not ‘just’ football fans. We had project managers, scientists, accountants, students, the retired (including a police officer), an FA Council member (our Chair, Malcolm Clarke) and many more. After posing for photographs for the press we made our way down to the library without problem. The protest was loud – West Yorkshire Police, You’re Having a Laugh – but peaceful, as we knew it would be. At the library, Louis gave a fantastic speech, saying:
“I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank everybody for supporting me in my campaign to make West Yorkshire Police accountable for their ridiculous restrictions on both sets of fans. I want to bring to attention the insult caused to both clubs and their fans.
“I’m only 15 but I’m already tired of being treated like a second class citizen just because I follow football. I’ve been knocked over by a police horse, been threatened and bullied, kept on trains against my will and have seen fans antagonised by the very people who are supposed to keep the the peace.”
The police numbered those protesting at around 70, but we all thought there were more than double that in attendance. Slightly more than 400 tickets were sold in the away end meaning approximately 1300 fans made their own protest by simply not turning up. WYP agreed as part of their concession to increase the initial allocation from 1500 to 1700, although Hull City fans tell me they could have easily taken around 3000 for a local fixture.
In the coming weeks we will be meeting with WYP together with supporter representatives. What has happened can’t be undone, but we all hope the meeting will be the start of a new relationship with WYP that allows supporters to have a meaningful input into how they’re policed in the future.
Amanda Jacks is the FSF's Caseworker, dealing with our policing and stewarding work. You can follow the FSF's casework on Twitter - @FSF_FairCop.
Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.