Report of FSF meeting with the police
Earlier this month, Mike Randall - LOFT's committee member for stadium issues - was invited to attend a meeting at New Scotland Yard with representatives from a number of other London football supporters' organisations. The meeting was set up by the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) and came about from previous meetings between the FSF and the officers organising the FA Cup semi-finals and final.
Attending for the police were Superintendent Morgan and Sergeant Hine from the Public Order Branch, Superintendent Booth from British Transport police and Chief Superintendent Pendry, Policy Lead for football and also the Commander in charge of games at Wembley stadium and member of the UEFA Policing Committee.
The meeting had no fixed agenda so covered many topics over two and half hours. Mike said: "I got a sense that the officers present really did want to hear our opinions and at times were quite candid about their thinking. As we put our questions it became clear that there are different dynamics to the policing of each of London's football grounds and each fans' group had its own issues."
Among the topics covered were:
- Fixtures - representatives from police forces attend the League’s fixture conference and make alterations as required to avoid clashes, both in terms of transportation and groups of fans. They try to keep fixtures as early as possible to avoid excessive drinking and to allow fans time to get home afterwards. This is before the TV companies reschedule matches for live coverage.
- Travel - the transport police can ask the rail companies to provide extra train capacity where they think that overcrowding may cause problems. "Dry" trains are at the whim of the rail companies, but are not always notified clearly enough at stations so it is possible to buy a pack of beer on the concourse only to have it confiscated at the ticket barrier. This obviously causes problems so, after some discussion, it was decided that an attempt should be made to produce a weekly list of the dry trains and other travel issues that, from the meeting's suggestion, could be linked to from all the club websites.
- Liaison officers - seen by almost everybody as a good thing and may see their role developed in the future.
- Standing (legal) - the police are implacable in their opposition to standing areas in grounds.
- Standing (illegal) - it is down to the clubs and their stewards on how they deal with groups standing illegally. Police will only become involved if stewards are assaulted.
- Police funding - the case that was going through the courts between Leeds United and the Yorkshire force involving the costs of policing Elland Road was seen as a watershed point where the future direction of policing costs will be decided. Since the meeting, the courts have found in favour of Leeds Utd. It may be that more use will be made of private security companies by clubs.
Also covered were hold backs after games, stewarding and touting.
The meeting ended with an explanation by Chief Supt Pendry of the project she had been tasked with by the senior management of the Met, based around 'getting consistency'. Those representatives attending have been asked to participate in this project by passing on the views of supporters, not of course about individual cases, but in more general terms. It seems there is no mechanism whereby policing efforts that were seen as successful by them could have an input from the fans involved.
Mike added: "Comparing football and rugby crowds, she said the difference was that it was the expectation of the younger group, aged 18 to 30, of football fans that they would have to drink heavily before the game because once in the ground there were either not able to drink or could not afford the prices (Wembley was mentioned in this context). This can then lead to the problems we all see for ourselves. Rugby fans on the other hand are less likely to turn up having been drinking previously as they can drink while watching the game.
Interesting stuff that shows just how much football is seen as a culture of its own and the attitude of "that’s the way we have always done it" is going to be challenged on both sides."
Mike will be attending a further meeting in September and is happy to receive any thoughts O's supporters may have and pass them on. He can be contacted at email@example.com