The Passion of Merseyside Police

Everton2

Earlier this week there was controversy on Merseyside as local police tried to change the kick-off time of this weekend's derby. In this blog Harry Stopes offers a pointed, personal view as to why he thinks the police so often seek to mess around with fixtures, and it comes down to money...

On Monday, Merseyside Police announced that they planned to go to court the following day, to force a change in the kick-off time of Saturday's game between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park. In the case of high profile games such as this one, kick-off times are sometimes changed, or supporter travel arrangements are restricted, at the behest of the police. Saturday's 5.30pm kick-off time had been agreed by Liverpool Council's licensing committee.

The sole reason for the late kick-off this Saturday – indeed, the reason for pretty much all weekend late kick-offs – is the scheduling requirements of satellite TV channels. A 3pm kick-off would clash with Atlético Madrid-Real Madrid [Editor's note - there's actually a 3pm TV "blackout" on Saturday games which is the reason it couldn't be broadcast then] and a lunchtime kick-off with Tottenham-Arsenal. The channels, the clubs, and the Premier League all have a significant financial interest in a 5.30pm kick-off.

When police attempt to disrupt football matches over safety they are rarely able to cite evidence for their concerns. When arrangements for a match between Huddersfield and Hull last season were questioned by fans, a senior West Yorkshire Police officer told a colleague to search “open source channels” - to trawl the internet in other words –  in search of information that could retrospectively justify the decision police had already made.

In a private email, a police solicitor admitted that the force appeared to have behaved “irrationally.” In the case of Saturday's match, Merseyside police publicly admitted that they had no specific information indicating increased risk, other than the fact that a late kick-off gives fans more time to drink.

In the end the hearing was a farce. The police solicitor immediately asked for an adjournment, returning to the court a short while later to announce that the force had come to an agreement with Everton: the club would take unspecified steps to improve security and “segregation”. The case was dropped.

The point of the challenge was not really to force a change in Saturday's kick-off time, so much as to offer the police an opportunity to throw their weight around. At the moment, football clubs are only eligible to pay police costs incurred inside stadia and on immediately surrounding streets. The Association of Chief Police Officers has argued that effective policing has displaced football-related crime away from stadia, making clubs responsible for a much larger footprint. This is a classic police bait and switch – crime is down so you need to pay us more – which would conveniently offload part of the cost of policing many busy city centres onto football clubs.

Football offers police chiefs an easy way to complain about their budgets and staffing numbers in a context in which – even though crime rates around football have been falling for decades – scaremongering about fans is politically easy and rarely subject to serious challenge. 

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.