Andy Burnham, the secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport has called for greater protection for football from political rallies after police requested that Everton move their game with Stoke to accommodate a BNP meeting.
Burnham, a lifelong Everton supporter, was one of many fans left annoyed at the late decision to move the match from its original Saturday, March 14th date to Sunday 15th. The reason Merseyside police gave for the move was the inability to control both the match and the BNP rally.
Burnham said: “We have pre-arranged football fixtures and yet the fans get messed around left, right and centre with games being changed at the drop of a hat. It is not on. I will be writing to ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) tomorrow and we are considering issuing guidelines to ensure this can never be allowed to happen again. People have been left out of pocket and inconvenienced. Pre-arranged games should take priority and political parties shouldn't ride roughshod over them.
“This has exposed the BNP as a complete shower but has also shown they can move any Premier League fixture they want. They gave no consideration to Everton and Stoke City supporters who had bought tickets and made travel arrangements and they have left many people out of pocket. The arrogance of them is unbelievable. The BNP should refund peoples' travel costs.”
Burnham also said that any guidelines would not only target the BNP but other political parties too.
The BNP have now cancelled the planned rally and tried to plead their innocence. However, the police have yet to make a decision whether the match can be moved back to its original date, claiming that it’s now too late to change it. Everton officials are set to liaise with representatives from Merseyside Police today in the hope that an agreement can be reached.
UPDATE! Everton have now confirmed that this match has been moved back to its original kick-off at 3pm on Saturday, March 14th, 2009.