NUST’s Graeme Cansdale reports on Policing Strategy
Most people who attend games will be aware that this season has seen a different approach to how our local police force operates on match days to ensure the safety of all fans and the general public. Most notable of all was their approach to December’s Tyne & Wear derby. Contrary to what some people might think, this approach was not just born out of the blue (pun intended). It was really initiated by Newcastle and Sunderland fans coming together in late 2013 and saying that the ‘bubble match’ tactics proposed by the Police for 2014 were unacceptable to the majority of match going fans and were thus, subsequently withdrawn. In fairness, the Police responded admirably.
Last summer, Northumbria Police set up for the very first time, regular scheduled consultation meetings with Newcastle United fans’ groups to have an open debate on issues that arise when policing NUFC fans, home and away. This in turn led to two joint meetings between the police and Newcastle and Sunderland fans, specifically dealing with the derby day policy.
As a regular attendee on behalf of the Trust, I assure you these were bi-lateral talks. Refreshingly frank discussions took place on how best to improve the matchday experience for the vast majority of fans (sadly we cannot influence results on the pitch), whilst still ensuring that the police fulfil their remit for keeping public order.
Times have changed and so have Policing methods. Back in the day, if you travelled away when our national game was blighted by organised hooliganism, you would be forgiven for feeling aggrieved at the way the majority were treated with disdain and contempt by the authorities because of the behaviour of a small active minority.
It has been a long and painful process for the rights of football supporters to be recognised – in many respects that struggle continues with the clubs and the general administration of the game – but I feel privileged to announce that Northumbria Police have recognised our rights as fans to be treated fairly and respectfully; not as some alien sub group, but as average citizens who choose to watch football. Chief Superintendent Steve Neill and his team deserve immense credit for their honesty and bravery in adopting this new approach.
As the Hillsborough Inquiry continues to shine new light on the tragedy that ensued that day in 1989, let us take at least some solace that those fans who fought for justice for so long for their friends and family who were killed – whose voices were cries in the dark for over a quarter of a century – are at last being listened to.
And Newcastle fans are also being heard. The soon to be announced derby day policy will be a continuation of what the police call their ‘neighbourhood policing style’. Not wanting to compromise or misquote anyone, I will not reveal the detail of the plan-that will be announced in due course from the right and proper authorities- but it is NOT a hard line approach. Nor is it a negation of duty – as some in the press appeared to portray the strategy in the build up to last December’s Tyne-Wear derby.
It’s an interesting fact that the money and resources it takes for policing the derby with a ‘softer approach’ are far greater than the ‘iron curtain’ approach from yester years. Of course, mistakes have been made and this is where consultation with fans and the open lines of communication are so valuable in getting feedback to improve things for all. It is a sad fact that the Newcastle/ Sunderland derbies have been marred by well publicised incidents of public order which has reflected awfully on the clubs, the cities and the region. What should remain a cauldron of passion and a show piece for the game in a hotbed for our national sport, has become a side note in sporting terms and of more interest to those unscrupulous parts of the media who are more likely to send cameras to record unsavoury incidents outside the grounds, rather than what happens in the game on the pitch!
The Football Supporters Federation, our national organisation representing fans – based in Sunderland with an NUFC supporting chief exec – have done some sterling work with their ‘Derby to be proud of’ campaign. I urge you all, to check it out and heed the message of passion without poison. (www.fsf.org.uk)
Ultimately the responsibility of how these derby matches go in terms of portraying the game in the right light lies not with the police or fans organisations, but with us as individual fans. Too often in our society it seems the majority of us know how to behave properly but are unwilling to vocalise our objection and act when the tiny minority step beyond the realms of what is acceptable. How many of us, have turned the other way when we have witnessed anti-social behaviour on the Metro, for instance?
In terms of football, I am not advocating a situation where fans ‘toot’ on their fellow fans for the most minor indiscretion, but we all know in the past things have gone beyond the pale. In terms of relations with our nearest rivals, I don’t propose a ‘love in’ but we should also be aware that the landscape changed this season.
When the Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down, the response from fans on Wearside to the tragic events was genuine and heart-warming. The families and indeed, all Newcastle fans, should be eternally grateful for their generous humanity. Newcastle fans have remembered John Alder and Liam Sweeney at every game this season by 60 seconds applause in the 17th minute. Fans can quite rightly feel proud and protective of this season long tribute – but time continues on and we face a derby match where the tragic events are not so fresh in people’s memories. The bit of bridge building that made the last derby match a bit safer and less unsavoury in the wake of MH17, cannot be sustained on the memory of that tragedy.
Distasteful chanting has been one area which has continued to cause friction and escalate incidents. With the news of Adam Johnson’s alleged offence, a scenario which could well happen on April 5th is the emergence from the Newcastle end of chants on this subject (they were evident at the recent Everton away game). If that does happen, would the chanting participants be expecting Sunderland fans to observe the minute’s applause for John and Liam? You see where I’m coming from? This is not me preaching, but asking you to think about it. It comes down to personal responsibility, social awareness and self-policing.
The Police are doing their bit and placing some trust in the fans. It is really up to us, not to betray that trust and let ourselves down. May you all have a safe derby day and let’s hope we can have a long overdue result!
We as a board welcome all members and non-members to write to us with issues and questions which we would be more than welcome to raise on your behalf at the next police liaison meeting. You can contact us here.
Furthermore, the police have made it clear they want a wider demographic of fans to attend and contribute to these meetings, so long as they have notice of your intended attendance. You can contact them here:firstname.lastname@example.org