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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Policing the local football derby

Monday, April 7, 2008

Local derby’s bring excitement for the fans; they also produce headaches for the police who have the job of getting them into the stadium safely. Meg accompanied the police during the January fixture between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday her report is below. 


As 30,000 Wednesday and United fans prepared for one of the biggest games of the season 300 police officers were in position to ensure that the day passed off peacefully. Preventing damage to people and property, as well as protecting Sheffield’s reputation, are central in the police’s strategy for this and every other football match. The added pressure of local rivalries demanded an extra effort.


I joined Chief Superintendent Jon House and Head of football policing Martin Hemingway for the day to see the operation first hand.


10am   We leave from Ecclesfield Police Station. Some pubs have already been open for an hour serving breakfast and beer, so we drive round those that might contain fans so far all quiet. Jon and Martin explain the systems that operate a clear command structure, police support units consisting of officers on the ground, mounted police, officers on bikes, tactical units (officers with protection for the most rowdy situations) and the police helicopter.


           10.30   Into the Central police station to see the command centre where everything is co-ordinated. Intelligence plays an important part, knowing who is likely to cause trouble. Already a list of pubs is on the board numbers in them and whether the age mix and fan mix is likely to be a problem.

The helicopter is controlled from here, quickly checking out reports and helping the deployment of the ground forces. They also take video footage of any incidents for possible use in court.


            11.00   Back out on the road, checking pubs in the Hillsborough and Walkley areas. All still reasonably quiet.


            11.45   Information received that a large group of Sheffield United supporters with the potential for trouble are in a pub in Walkley. The road is blocked off and police are in the pub determining which fans have tickets and which don’t. A large number of tactical police are ready to walk those with tickets down to Hillsborough. The other fans will be escorted back to town. A member of the public approaches Chief Superintendent House to say that he thinks the number of police is overkill. Jon explains that there needs to be sufficient to prevent problems arising.


12.00  We drive down to Hillsborough Corner and get out to talk to the police monitoring the situation. The usual Saturday shoppers are outnumbered by large numbers of Wednesday fans drinking in the pubs. The police are also monitoring the trams coming through and the fans getting off.

Police officers are issuing a Section 27 order to a young man who looks quiet and co-operative to me, but I’m told that he had been at the heart of a group shouting abuse and threatening language. It’s a new power from the Violent Crime Reduction Act enabling the police to give directions to leave a locality, where an individual’s presence is likely to cause or contribute to alcohol-related crime or disorder.  It’s the first time the police have used it at a football match, but in this case it seems to have calmed the young man down.

By now many fans are heading to the ground and the police are shepherding them along on foot, horse back and in vehicles.


           12.30  We head to the Leppings Lane entrance where its mainly United fans entering.


           12.50   The match kicks off 5 minutes late fans are still arriving. Some complain they have been held in town on trams Chief Superintendent House explains that they have to try and manage the flow of fans to prevent fans mixing.


1.00    Time to go in the ground and into the security box to learn about the operation inside.  Rachel Barber, is in charge here. She’s been directing police in the ground, working with stewards and Sheffield Wednesday security staff. The match is underway and the pressure eases a bit - but when Wednesday score the fans reaction shows that aggression is not far below the surface. The rival fans are kept separate so they can’t get at each other.

Someone’s overheard talk about a possible pitch invasion and stewards and police are moved to the relevant area.

2.00    With the second half underway we take time to grab a quick sandwich. On the police radio I can hear instructions for different groups of police officers to be ready for the exit of the fans from the stadium.


2.25          Police lined up ready for the end of the match. The road is blocked off with a combination of horses and police officers on foot. The evidence gatherers, who are police officers with hand held video cameras, are in place to record any problems that occur. United fans starting to leave in steady stream as their team is 2-0 down.

2.35    The end of match and now both Wednesday and United fans are heading out of the ground mingling with each other. One United fan gets punched in the face by a Wednesday supporter for no reason, but otherwise it’s calm. Police spotters, who are familiar with trouble makers, are standing by and some set off behind fans to mitigate problems.


3.10     Back in the van, we head off towards town. Concerned that Wednesday fans may attack trams full of United fans as they go through Hillsborough corner, trams are held back until reinforcements are in place. Eventually the trams get going accompanied by police vans and police officers on foot.


4.00     The match may be over but the police operation will go on late into the evening. Many fans are in pubs and the police are monitoring where problems may arise. Police officers chat to fans having cigarettes outside pubs to gauge the situation and be ready to diffuse difficult situations early.


This was a particularly peaceful event, with minimal disruption caused to members of the public. There were fewer reports of violence than at previous derbies and only 15 arrests on the day. I was impressed with the operation, the range of resources deployed and the co-operation that achieved this good outcome - the resources were well used.


But I was left amazed at the overall amount of police resource necessary for this event. The football clubs only meet a small percentage of the cost of the total police operation, and I wonder what other operations the police could have been engaged in. After all, Sheffield is a city of half a million people, of whom only 30,000 attended the match.  

Associated Photograph :

In the control room

In the control room

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