Over the past week or so we’ve heard from a lot of Burnley fans who are rightly angry that their club’s Premier League trip to Ewood Park has been designated a ‘bubble match’. Bubble matches are games where ALL away fans must travel on designated transport from a specific pick up point. No independent travel is allowed, although supporters' coaches may be used, and fans are usually given match tickets en route to the game.
It’s a tactic that police have used around the UK and it seems to be on the rise. This should matter to fans from every club. Blackburn and Burnley met in the FA Cup a few years ago and we certainly don’t remember hearing of any trouble.
It could be you next.
Imagine if your club was targeted with a bubble match. It automatically tars every fan as a hooligan. That’s not ‘policing by consent’ as goes the current police jargon and whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?
Ironically one of the knock on effects of bubble matches is that it can actually cause problems. Normal fans decide not to go, the numbers drop off and any troublemakers there subsequently have a higher profile and no longer have to put up with normal supporters’ complaints.
Fans are penned into escorts like sheep and treated with contempt by the ‘welcoming’ police and stewards who are already primed for troublemakers – even if they are the minority. It just aggravates the situation.
While that’s draconian enough in itself other aspects of bubble matches are just utterly ridiculous.
Imagine you’re a Burnley fan living in Blackburn. You’ll have to get up at sun rise to make it to Burnley in time for a 9.15am departure from Turf Moor back to Ewood Park! We’ve already had a number of fans get in touch with round trips that would make Neil Armstrong wince while Burnley fan Jason Taylor appeared in the Blackburn Citizen explaining his predicament. Some of the supporters we’ve spoken to are going to have 12 hour round journeys.
Think it can’t get any worse? Think again.
Supporters will be delivered (there really isn’t any other word for it) to Ewood Park two and a half hours before kick-off and be charged an additional £5 each for the compulsory coach journey. Will supporters be offered any food and drink other than overpriced pies and pop? We doubt it.
In our experience at the FSF it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to get police to backtrack from a bubble match once they’ve set their sights on it BUT there are a number of things we’ll be asking the police and clubs to promise:
- Disabled fans must be exempt from this.
- Exiled fans should be picked up en route or have tickets posted upon proof of address – this should be easy to administer as they’ll be season ticket holders anyway.
- The police change the timings on this trip – forcing people to wait in an empty stadium for more than two hours is unacceptable.
We’d recommend fans email the above demands to their club and think of ways they can fight these matches happening in future. Bristol City fans chose to boycott when it happened to them. If Burnley fans can come together and let us know their plans - we will publicise. Blackburn fans must get behind their rivals as well otherwise it WILL be you next.
The FSF will do all we can to publicise this and support fans’ complaints but the only way things will improve is if fans en masse stand up and be counted.
We have heard rumours that Rovers and Clarets fans plan on joining forces and walking in unison the dozen or so miles from Turf Moor to Ewood - more on this if it goes ahead.
Lastly, a quick question to Burnley's board. We're sure you count yourselves as fans, we're not talking detached overseas owners here.
So we ask the question - as the club back this bubble match will you be joining normal fans in the police escort at 9.15am? If not, why not?
If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for you.