Fair Cop? Supporters give their views on derby day

The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) Northeast Division has published a unique report into policing and stewarding at last month’s Wear-Tyne derby, which voices the concerns of match-going fans. The scheme was repeated at Saturday's Tees-Tyne derby, which ended in a goalless draw at the Riverside, and will take place at all the North East's top-flight derby matches.

Before last month’s Sunderland v Newcastle derby members of the FSF Northeast Division distributed thousands of flyers to home and away supporters giving them the opportunity to text or e-mail their views, both positive and negative, on the fixture’s policing and stewarding.

In the days following the game they received over 10,000 words of constructive feedback, with most supporters offering largely positive views, in relation to both their experiences outside the ground and the police’s approach to fans. The feedback noted that the policing operation had been carried out by officers who had conducted themselves with due care and good nature towards supporters of both clubs.

However, there were a number of common issues that supporters evidently felt strongly about and they fell into several broad categories:

  • Post-match arrangements – there was an apparent lack of appropriately positioned police and/or stewards at the conclusion of the match. Meanwhile, there was confusion around access to toilet facilities for visiting supporters being held back at the end of the match. If supporters are to be detained after the match, adequate facilities should be made available to them, with the very minimum being toilet facilities.  Information about this should be communicated clearly to supporters. It was felt that this, combined with a failure to clear the stadium promptly, and the piping of celebratory post-match music, further increased tensions. Updates should be broadcast to supporters before, during, and after the match, highlighting the arrangements for emptying the stadium and any changes to publicised arrangements.
  • Segregation and pitch invasions – fans felt that segregation was insufficient, with not enough space separating rival supporters and not enough stewards or police in place. In addition, access to the playing area was gained far too easily by individuals spilling out of seated areas, due to inappropriately positioned stewards.
  • Stewarding - Many supporters felt the stewarding was unprofessional, with reports of stewards celebrating Sunderland’s winning goal, while the throwing of projectiles did not appear to be dealt with in an active manner. Stewards should be appropriately recruited, trained, briefed and made identifiable through a numbered badging system. The use of a central pool of stewards, used by both clubs, could improve their effectiveness and competence.
  • Ticketing and seating arrangements – there were issues over ‘phantom’ tickets being issued for seats which didn’t exist, while disabled supporters were positioned in vulnerable locations.
  • Transport for away supporters – while supporters applauded NUFC for providing a free coach service to the Stadium of Light, many said they would use public transport in future, most likely the Metro system, due to the length of time it took between boarding the coaches and arriving at their destination. Coach services must depart at more appropriate times if fans are to be encouraged to use them.

Scott Bentley of the FSF Northeast, said: “Our forward-looking recommendations are focused on improving the match-day experience for supporters attending future North East derby matches, some of the most passionate games in football.

“We hope that the relevant authorities will listen to the voices of supporters, football’s most important ‘stakeholders’, and take on board what we have to say. We’d like to hear from fans across the North East who want to get involved, and help improve the match-day experience for all.”

Chief Superintendent Neil Mackay of Northumbria Police explained how his force were pleased to work with fans: “We value fans' feedback on our football policing operations. We are happy to work with the Football Supporters' Federation and respond to concerns and are committed to working closely with our partners to help ensure that all fans can enjoy football matches safely.”

The FSF Northeast Division’s recommendations to address these issues have been passed on to both Sunderland AFC and Northumbria Police.  In addition, the report has been shared with the Football Association, Football Licensing Authority and local Safety Advisory Group.

The next meeting of the FSF Northeast Division is scheduled for February 2008 and will take place in Sunderland. For further information email Ginnette Bentley.