Wrexham travel to Chester on Monday 22nd September and, once again, the police and clubs will force fans to submit to "bubble match" restrictions. The FSF opposes bubble matches and has helped fans' campaigns overturn such restrictions. Wrexham fan Andy Pierce (@youngkilshaw) has set up a petition to put pressure on the police and clubs, he explains why below…
I'm not naive enough to think there's no chance of disorder at this game. That risk has always been there since the 70s, maybe even the late 60s, but bubble match restrictions do not target the minority of troublemakers.
Instead, they punish all away fans, and hope that will deter the violent minority. This is surely wrong in principle. People should be held to account for their own actions, not punished for the actions of others.
One Wrexham fan lives a mile away from Chester's ground and will have to travel to Wrexham, to be bussed into Chester in the bubble, then back to Wrexham post-game, only to have to drive home to Chester at who knows what time.
The police and football authorities should concentrate on tackling troublemakers and incidents of disorder directly, with the co-operation of football clubs and supporters' organisations. The disorderly few should be held to account for their behavior and the vast majority of peaceful football fans should have freedom of movement.
Back in 2005 Wrexham met Chester in the LDV Trophy with the game attracting more than 5,000 fans, with a large travelling support from Wrexham. The match was policed in such a way that there was no trouble at the ground.
The only minor incidents were out of town, with only five arrests, which is fewer than at the average Chester race meeting. The police kept the troublemakers apart and did so in a way that was praised by fans and the host club Chester for its manner, efficiency and fair financial cost to the club.
In 2009, the two sides met again. This time at the Racecourse Ground, again, without the need for bubble policing. There were 123 officers involved in the operation that day, with a total cost of £12,179. As in 2005, only 5 arrests were made.
With no rising trends in arrest figures I want to know on what grounds, and using what data, North Wales Police and Cheshire Police forces came to the decision that the fixture needed to become a bubble match in 2013?
Not only that, I want to know exactly why an extra 100 police officers were required to police the same number of people, taking the total policing bill to £35,000+.
What I find most interesting is that 23 arrests were made last season, a rise of 18 arrests from the two previous fixtures between Wrexham and Chester. It suggests heavy-handed policing actually increased disorder.
I recently had the chance to put this query to Superintendent Rob Kirman of North Wales Police (NWP), at a Wrexham Supporters Trust meeting. He explained that policing methods have changed since 2009, and that they treat each fixture individually, based on current intelligence, without looking at historical cross-border derbies.
If this is the case why do police keep insisting that the reason for such a strong police presence is because this fixture has a long history of disorder? It appears to me that NWP only like to quote history when it suits them, and not when facts are placed in front of them.
For the return game at Chester, the bubble was again used and the number of police on duty was the same, but this time for a much smaller crowd of 4,326, with 1,180 traveling supporters. That breaks down as one police officer for every 19 people in attendance, or one officer for every five travelling fans.
To put that ratio into perspective, for the Manchester derby, Greater Manchester Police are able to police the match, with no adjustments to kick-off times, with around 400 police officers. For the purpose of my study I rounded that figure up to 500.
At Old Trafford the attendance was 76,000, that's around one officer for every 190 fans. And that doesn't even included the 10,000s of people packing out pubs all across the city to watch on TV. How can the police even begin to defend the amount of police resources ploughed into a Conference fixture?!
The response to this was that the cross-border derby has a higher ratio of risk element fans per people in attendance, than that of the Manchester derby. A clever statement that I would agree with, but it is a statement that has absolutely no relevance to the risk of disorder.
Both Manchester teams have risk elements, the fact that they are both dwarfed by the number of well-behaved supporters, does not take away the chance of confrontation in the slightest. Yet the game still goes ahead without the need for bubble policing.
Last season Lincoln City and Grimsby Town met twice over the Christmas/New Year period for the Lincolnshire derby; two clubs of comparable size to Wrexham and Chester and a fixture with an equal history of disorder. Both games had attendances of nearly 5,500, more than went to the Swansway Chester Stadium last season.
Despite declaring both games ‘High Risk' Lincolnshire Police saw no reason to make either of these fixtures bubble matches. A force with less resources than the combined of NWP and Cheshire Police were able to manage those games without serious incident.
Only two arrests were made following the Boxing Day clash, a youth supporter of Grimsby for possession of a smoke bomb and a 42-year-old Lincoln fan for breach of his banning order. Again, I ask why other police forces manage without the bubble, but ours can't?
The details of the 'Safe Travel Arrangements' (as the club and police are now calling the bubble match in a poor PR effort to make kettling on wheels sound better) for the Chester v Wrexham bubble match have now been released by Wrexham AFC.
There will be varied bus pick up points across North Wales but, for example, the bus leaving Wrexham will pick up at 5.45pm for an 8pm kick off. Two and a quarter hours for a journey that would normally only take 20 minutes. These pick-up times alienate supporters who haven't missed a derby in decades. Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott even branded bubble matches the "most draconian travel restrictions since miners' strike pickets were targeted".
As fans we call on both football clubs, the police and local authorities to reject and end the extreme and discriminatory practice of bubble matches.
- Sign Andy’s petition here…
- If you have issues with policing/stewarding at your club, email the FSF: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.