Criminalising football fans - two new 'bubble matches' in March

A guest post by Peter Lloyd, author of Criminalising Football Fans - The Case Against 'Bubble' Matches:

Unreasonable restrictions, imposed by the police, on the freedom of movement of travelling football supporters are back on the agenda. Fans of Championship clubs Burnley and Hull City are facing higher costs and drastic restrictions for upcoming local derby matches against Blackburn and Huddersfield respectively. Last year the Manifesto Club wrote a report on the extent of these “bubble” matches and called for their abolition.

Hull City supporters are being forced to travel to the match at Huddersfield on 30th March by designated coaches from Hull. No private transport will be allowed. They are also restricted to buying only 1500 tickets for the away supporters stand at Huddersfield which has a capacity of 4000. All this is being done for the convenience of West Yorkshire Police. Hull City fans do not have a record of causing trouble, with only 14 arrests in the whole of last season, the eighth lowest in their league, and a tiny figure considering the numbers who attend matches.

But West Yorkshire Police are facing a legal challenge from a 15 year old Hull City supporter Louis Cooper who lives in Manchester. He would have to travel all the way to Hull to get a coach to the match when Huddersfield is just 30 miles from where he lives. He would then have to return to Hull before making a final journey home to Manchester, a round trip of 350 miles. If West Yorkshire Police refuse to lift the sanctions, Cooper’s solicitors are threatening to apply for a judicial review of its decision.

Burnley fans face similar restrictions for their match at Blackburn Rovers on 17th March with only two permitted pick up points for those travelling to Blackburn for the match. The Lancashire Telegraph quoted Burnley season ticket holder Pauline Stott who said; “for the four of us that’s £26 for the coach, when if we travelled by car it would be a fraction of that,” adding; “you’re herded around and plonked in the stadium hours before kick off.” “Attending a game is supposed to be a leisure pastime, but it’s more like a military operation going to Ewood [Blackburn’s ground]. I’d like to know what Burnley’s board will be doing. Will they be in the police escort at 9.45 a.m?”

These restrictions are unnecessary, with supporter behaviour better than ever. Overly officious safety groups made up of council officials, club safety officers and the police are too easily swayed into imposing draconian restrictions when the risks are minimal but cause substantial inconvenience to ordinary law abiding football supporters.

Total attendance at regulated football matches in England and Wales in the 2011/12 season was in excess of 37 million. The total number of arrests, at 2363, represents less than 0.01% of the total or 1 arrest for every 15,782 spectators and was down 24% on the previous season. It seems to be very safe to go to a football match and there should be no travel restrictions.

Peter Lloyd is on the England and Wales Council of Supporters Direct.