This was a piece we planned to use in the new issue of true faith but was squeezed out by other (better) material but we thought we’d clag it on the site anyway.
To be honest, I’m still a bit surprised that it took until January 2014 for one of Newcastle United or Sunderland to propose a Bubble Trip for the Derby match. For those of you wondering what the hell a Bubble Trip is, it is namely an arrangement wherein supporters travelling to a game, usually a Cat A fixture are forced to use the transport made available or give up their option of a ticket for a game. In this way, the authorities can exert maximum control over travelling supporters, being completely on top of their every movement and turn a sporting fixture into a de-facto military operation. The South Wales Police have deployed this arrangement previously for the Cardiff-Swansea game and it has been used as well for games involving Blackburn-Burnley and curiously enough, Hull-Huddersfield (me neither). Given Newcastle United and Sunderland’s history of rolling over at every request from Northumbria Police for as long as I can remember there has been a part of me fully expecting this ahead of derby matches for years.
That the proposed implementation of the first Bubble Trip should be for Sunderland’s visit to St James’ Park this season isn’t that surprising given the disorder (exaggerated though it was, as it always is) of last April and in particular the footage of a B&W clad head-case punching a Police horse outside The Gallowgate that went viral.
As long as I remember, Northumbria Police has been insisting on early KO times for Derby matches with their view being it will keep rival supporters off the beer and so reduce pissed-up pagga around the derby. In the pre-SKY age, clubs were happy to comply but with televised matches providing substantial revenue, their compliance has increasingly come at a price. In essence the early KO curfew has meant that the Derby game is only available for KO time before 1:30pm. What this means is that later KO times 2pm, 4pm, 5:30pm and Monday night TV slots have been off-limits and thus hitting each clubs bottom line.
We know the clubs were growing increasingly unhappy about missing out on later KO times (and the TV money) but with Northumbria Police sending detailed dossiers to the PL about the grave difficulties of later KO times and the potential for disorder they had to do something and that something in the early part of January 2014 was a Bubble Trip for Sunderland fans visiting SJP. Sunderland AFC identified the flash point for disorder at the SJP fixture comes with a proportion of their fans choosing to jump the Metro to and from Newcastle and the subsequent walk from the Central Station, which is possibly the most heavily policed strip of football anywhere in the country. Older Sunderland fans will testify in years gone by, their walk back to Central Station was something of a clenched-buttock affair. The expression, running the gauntlet comes readily to mind. I imagine Sunderland’s thinking was that if this was removed from the day, the whole nature of the Policing of the derby would change and they could get back to persuading the Police not to put the spoke in bids to have the Derby matches kicking off later for TV. Have no doubt about it the clubs collaboration had a distinct commercial dimension.
What both Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC hadn’t bargained for however was when the Bubble strategy was made public and the back-lash got underway was Northumbria Police behaving in a wholly disingenuous manner and leaving them to hang out to dry. Responsibility shifted squarely upon Sunderland AFC. The Police statement attempted to give the impression they had absolutely nothing to do with the KO times and they were happy to provide Police cover whatever the KO times. Given Northumbria’s finest had been lobbying the Premier League heavily for years and getting their way, the clubs, Sunderland in particular, was pissed off to say the least.
Where the driver for the volte-face from the clubs came (as well as that remarkable statement signed by both clubs which laid plain Northumbria Police’s mendacity) however was from humble supporters! Very quickly in the process your humble gob-shite fanzine let it be known whose side we were on with this one and it was on the side of civil liberties, the free movement of law-abiding football fans and we weren’t particularly bothered if that meant sticking up for the rights of Sunderland’s hard-core support. Watching football is not a crime. There was a certain element of self-interest because we knew (and indeed were told by an official of Sunderland AFC) if this Bubble arrangement went through, we would be subject to the same draconian arrangements next season down there (subject to them stopping up) for the Derby on Wearside.
At a meeting organised and led by the Football Supporters Federation there was unanimity amongst the Newcastle United side (true faith, The Mag, nufc.com and the Newcastle United Supporters Trust) and Sunderland (A Love Supreme, Seventy Three, Ready To Go, Roker Report and Wise Men Say) that the tribalism that divides us so emphatically should be placed to one side so we could collaborate to take on a common enemy. During a meeting with Louise Wanless (Head of Media – Sunderland AFC) the whole injustice of the Bubble (only 6 of the 96 arrested in April 13 had been to the match and only one was a Sunderland fan) was put to her, the whole issue of compromising the civil liberties of the innocent majority to tackle the guilty minority given the disinfectant of sunlight by way of polite, intelligent debate and the muddle-headed impracticalities of a multitude of new bus routes (we learned that pockets of Sunderland fans would be picked up from such unlikely places as Wallsend, Blaydon, Cramlington, Jarrow and Hebburn) with the potential of disorder multiplied rather than reduced. We speculated upon the wisdom of having stewards holding tickets for matches and the effectiveness of banning orders for known hooligans were Sunderland fans to be bussed in from well outside the traditional routes. A Sunderland supporters’ coach picking up in Wallsend? What could possibly go wrong? The question was put repeatedly, why couldn’t Northumbria Police do what their colleagues in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Liverpool and just about everywhere else do, year after year without so much fuss? Before our eyes we saw the penny drop that the Bubble trip was the wrong response, targeting the wrong people in the wrong way. The following day, a statement (which we understand was drafted by Lee Charnley at Newcastle United) was agreed by both clubs and the Bubble was burst. As we understand it, piss was boiling amongst the senior Polis at Ponteland but a really important battle had been won and hopefully we’ll see later KO times and all the rest of it in future.
That’s not to say it’s all over and the war is won. By the time you likely have read this, the game will have been played and we’ll know how it all went. There will be a concerted effort to put a division between the vast majority of good, passionate, full-on supporters and the non-match going, white-lightening fuelled, bollock-scratching chimps we saw making arses of themselves (and us) last April. I hope it works for all of our sakes.