In the past few days fans from Newcastle United and Sunderland have put rivalries aside and worked together to try and overturn the "bubble" game restrictions on next month's derby. This evening Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United FC released a joint statement confirming that Sunderland "will be withdrawing the terms and conditions of ticket sales, which previously stated that all supporters must attend the game on official transport." Great news.
There was genuine anger from supporters which culminated in a unique coalition of fans' groups, fanzines, websites, and podcasts, from both sides. Both clubs deserve a lot of credit for listening to supporters on this issue, as do those groups who joined forces to campaign, and fans who took the time to express their views to the clubs and police. Once all this news has been digested we'll probably have more to report but in the meantime we've reproduced the clubs' joint statement below...
Statement on behalf of Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United FC.
Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC are surprised and disappointed with the statement issued yesterday by Northumbria Police in which the force claims that the police cannot direct changes to kick-off times for the clubs' fixtures, referring in particular to the derby games.
Over a number of years both clubs have made repeated representations to Northumbria Police to try and reach agreement over kick-off times to enable a traditional 3pm kick-off or later to enable broadcasters to give the game consideration in the majority of their time slots for live coverage.
Police forces up and down the country have been able to police high-profile derby matches for years, including most recently the first Welsh derby in the Premier League, Cardiff v Swansea, on Sunday 3rd November at 4:00pm, Arsenal v Tottenham at 5:15pm on Saturday 4th January, and Manchester City v Manchester United on Sunday 22nd September at 4:00pm.
In recent years Northumbria Police have rejected every request made by the clubs for later kick-off slots including Saturday 5:30pm, Sunday 4:00pm and Monday 8:00pm.
Both clubs have evidence in the form of considerable written correspondence between Northumbria Police, the Premier League and the clubs which contradicts their statement of yesterday. Indeed that correspondence has stated that Northumbria Police would not be prepared to police the evening fixtures requested previously, as well as their confirmation to the Premier League in writing in January 2013 that the force would not support derby matches with kick-off times later than 1:30pm.
For Northumbria Police therefore to issue a statement stating that they do not direct changes to kick-off times is quite frankly false and absurd - and conflicts with the respectful and responsible manner in which both Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC have engaged with the police over many years with regard to the derby fixture.
In light of Northumbria Police's latest statement, Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC will now inform the Premier League that all future fixtures between the two clubs will be available for kick-off times to suit the clubs, the League and their broadcast partners, if applicable, and will expect Northumbria Police to police these games, especially given the considerable costs both clubs incur for such special police services.
After considering the police position, Sunderland AFC will be withdrawing the terms and conditions of ticket sales, which previously stated that all supporters must attend the game on official transport. The arrangements to provide complimentary buses and supporters branch transport will remain in place and Sunderland AFC advises fans that this is the safest method of travel to St James’ Park.