Fifteen-year-old Hull City fan Louis Cooper is launching a legal challenge against West Yorkshire Police’s (WYP) decision to enforce draconian ticket and travel restrictions for his club’s visit to Huddersfield Town on Saturday 30th March.
Last week WYP announced they plan to make the Championship clash a “bubble” match. The decision caused uproar among supporters with fans' groups from both sides condemning the move.
Bubble matches are games where all away supporters must travel on designated transport, usually club coaches, from specific pick up points - in this case the club's official Tiger Travel from Hull.
Ticket numbers have been cut to 1,500 and no independent travel is allowed. This restricts freedom of movement and causes logistical problems for fans such as Louis who don’t live in the city.
Louis said: “The police have made it impossible for a lot of fans to go to the game. It has been done without consulting fans and doesn’t reflect what has happened at previous games.
“I travel from Manchester to home and away games and this will be the first away game I will miss this season. I have travelled to Beijing to watch Hull City and have done so without restrictions. I hope the police change their mind sooner rather than later.”
- You can read more of Louis' thoughts at his blog: freedomforfansblog.wordpress.com
WYP have rated the game a Category C (Increased Risk) fixture – the highest level of risk – because the match kicks off at 5.20pm. Police fear that the extra drinking hours will encourage disorder.
However, fans of both clubs point out that there is no historic rivalry between the sides. In addition not a single Hull City fan was arrested for an alcohol offence last season. During the 2011/12 season only 14 Tigers fans were arrested at games and half of those arrests occurred at home fixtures.
Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott branded bubble matches the “most draconian travel restrictions since miners’ strike pickets were targeted”. He cites the example of John Miles, a Hull City fan living in Huddersfield, who will have to travel to Hull to board a coach to take him to Huddersfield.
Solicitor Lochlinn Parker works at Deighton Pierce Glynn and will handle the case. The firm specialise in civil rights and judicial reviews. Lochlinn said he believes the decision is “unlawful” and will apply for a judicial review if WYP refuse to remove restrictions.
Some supporters argue that bubble matches are actually counter-productive as many “normal” fans can be put off attending. This gives a higher profile to the few unwanted troublemakers and discourages families from attending games.
Bubble matches also mean disorder can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The implication is that many in attendance are potential hooligans. The welcoming party of police and stewards are therefore primed to views away fans as “trouble”. Tensions rise on both sides and the concept of policing by consent is lost.
The Home Office’s own figures from 2011-12 showed that only one in every 15,782 spectators was arrested and overall arrests at football were down by a quarter. Only seven Hull City fans were arrested at away games last season and the legal route is a last throw of the dice for supporters.
Amanda Jacks, Caseworker at the FSF, said: “It’s unusual for football fans to seek a remedy through the courts but on this occasion they seem to be left with no alternative. Legal action is a last resort and we sincerely hope WYP will drop these restrictions on ordinary law-abiding people enabling them to travel to this match unimpeded.
“I've been overwhelmed with emails from fans many of whom speak of longstanding arrangements, even flights, to visit Huddersfield and the surrounding areas. Those plans are scuppered. These are fans the police should want at games but sadly they've managed to disrupt and alienate many ordinary supporters.”
- It’s not just Hull City fans who have to put up with bubble matches. We’ve heard of other cases at Bristol City, Burnley, Cardiff City, Leeds United, Millwall, Portsmouth, Southampton and Wolves. If your club has such restrictions imposed let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Disabled supporters will be allowed to travel to the game independently from Tiger Travel, providing they are only accompanied by their sole carer.