It’s that time of year, now that’ summer’s in the air
When 22 wet gits, with their girly curly hair
Kick a ball about, for 90 minutes, sometimes more
And then cry to mummy, when they fall down on the floor
Ohh the rugby players, with their arms and legs all hanging off,
Laugh and call them names, cos a hair is out of place
They make millions each year but should get some proper jobs,
And a number of their fans are a bunch of smelly yobs.
(With apologies to any Spitting Image fans … ohh and any rugby fans who may be disgusted by the mere association )
Yup peeps, it’s August, that time of year when schools have broken up for the summer holidays, families are excitingly taking their well earned vacations to places new and (hopefully) sunny, and you’ve just walked into your first early shift to find a plethora of emails telling you every Saturday you were due to be on rest days for the next 6 months has been cancelled and you are now going to be spending them cramped up in the back of a very uncomfortable overcrowded minibus wearing your own personal sauna with an equally unhappy bunch of you best work colleagues.
You guessed it, the football season is back !
In fairness, there aren’t that many Saturday’s actually cancelled, but they are the only 3 or 4 you were due to have off to spend with family and/or friends (if you have any left cos they’re so fed up of you letting them down due to ever-changing work commitments) this side of the new year. And let’s face it, you’ve got no chance of booking that off either !
And what makes it even worse, if it could in anyway be, is that half the rest day cancellations aren’t even to cover football matches in your own town. No, half of them are mutual aid somewhere else – so your force is actually charging another one handsomely for the pleasure of cancelling your day off and moving it somewhere else to suit them …. as in the third Tuesday of next month when you would have been on earlies.
And that was us last Saturday, the #ChaosTeam and many others from adjoining stations from quite and area, up at the crack of dawn while the rest of the family sleep, other halves miffed off that the rare treat of a Friday night out together scuppered because you have to be up, dressed and out the door by 5am, squished with all our Public Order kit into a van better suited for delivering the weekly groceries, and and an hour or two’s mind numbing travelling across country to a strange town you’ve never been to, don’t know, yet are expected to keep perfectly safe without knowing any of the potential trouble makers from wither side, nor the geographical layout of the place and therefore no knowledge of likely hotspots, cut throughs and generally anything else that would help you do the job better ….. or at least even adequately.
Briefing for us, as the ‘Stage One’ team – which means we are out on the ground first, was at 8.00am .. sorry 08.00 hours in police gobbledegook. Waffle, waffle, blah, blah about the town and it’s football clubs history, silver strategy, human rights, R v Moss (& others) over and over again. It matters not if you get stoned, bricked, glassed or generally beaten to a pulp, but if you don’t known about ‘the last opportunity’ woe betide you !
Briefing over and out we go, 2 PSU’s, for anyone who doesn’t know and is mildly interested, that’s six vans full of PC’s, a sergeant on each van and an Inspector per three vans, to drive and/or walk aimlessly round the local town hoping to spot likely troublemakers or flashpoints (see my earlier reference about not knowing the area where you are or at least the local home team buffoons). It’s now 8.30am. Kick off is at 3.00pm. It’s going to be a long day.
The first couple of hours are spent, predictably, taking flak form the nice normal residents of town, complaining about the ‘vast waste of money’ it is having all these police officers roaming the streets of their fine abode. This week of course, it’s coupled with the predictable ‘ huh, you say you can’t send anyone to burglaries but look, there’s hundreds of you here and there’s nothing going on’
Ironically, the main reason half these people are in the town doing their shopping as soon as the doors are open is so that they don’t have to be here later in the day when all the football hooligans descend and we try and stop the idiots trashing this fine town, but let’s not pick on minor details – what they don’t see there and then or can’t comprehend doesn’t happen does it.
Sometime around 10.30am the calls start coming through from BTP (British Transport Police). Why do they call them that by the way, they only deal with the railways, not road or air transport ??
“Next train due in at 10.46 – approximately 200 away fans on board, between 70 and 100 identified as risk supporters” Ohh joy !
Control room now goes into panic and the Operation Commander immediately reaches for the big book of things to find the Janet & John instructions on what to do next. In the meantime, and as if by magic, the skippers on the ground have already diverted three of the vans to the railway station to meet and greet our visiting guests, and point the identified naughty boys and girls in the direction of the single town pub that will accept them for the day. And why is that pub always the other end of town to the railway/bus station ?
The families and ‘normal’ supporters (which are by the way the majority) can go explore all they like before the game
Well, when I say point, I really mean escort positively. The last thing we want is a large number of buffoons looking for a fight actually finding one, or at least something that isn’t browkn that they would like to break. It’s messy and means paperwork for us and panic for the bosses.
Of course, the travelling clowns love this too. Being escorted half way across the town by us as one big crowd makes them feel extra special. So much they even like to sing about it. Loudly. All the way. Badly.
It also makes them feel brave being protected by the very thin blue line of cops. With probably a dozen or so of us and a hundred of them, it doesn’t take a Professor of Math to work out we are hopelessly outnumbered and the hard guys could easily get past us and cause carnage at any point they like. But for the most part they aren’t actually that brave.
The like it behind our cordon, it gives them a reason for not actually being able to get involved with anything that might ruffle their Stone Island collar and fake Burberry hat.
They can safely hurl abuse at anyone they think is a home fan, or a pigeon, safe in the knowledge that the main reason we are there is to keep their butts safe from getting a good kicking by the irritated locals. But they won’t tell you that.
And so, with one pile of high risk buffoon safely stashed in a local hostelry where the landlord is only too pleased with the sudden and vast increase in business which has befallen him, and all the free extra security he has just acquired (as of course we are going to have to leave one van full of bobbies at this location to keep an eye on things) the rest of us start trudging back to the railway station to start the cycle once again.
After two or three goes at this game it does start to get boring. Really boring. And it is a game; to both them and us. Our goal is to get the danger gang from location ‘A’ to football ground ‘B’ as quickly and simply as possible, without them destroying any part of our town or the people within. Their goal of course is to prevent, delay or otherwise interfere with our aims, normally taking the very tried, tested and repetitive scenarios of those at the front trying to walk as quickly as they can; those at the back almost losing the ability to walk altogether and those in the middle trying to burst out everywhere they can and create merry mayhem.
It’s also amazing how many people in the soccer snakes suddenly find their shoelaces have come undone so they need to stop and tie them up …. sometimes many times over during the journey.
Arriving at our destination, albeit very noisily form the loud and normally bloody awful singing, and having hopefully incurred the added bonus of walking the fight out of our quarry, disaster strikes.
Several of the other vans of officers, who had travelled some fair distance to support us and clearly hadn’t got a clue about the local layout, flashpoints, or indeed anything else relevant to a town and bunch of people they’d never encountered before, and who were supposed to be monitoring the home crowd had, in a very practical manner, used their vans to create a barrier between the access areas of the ground for the home and away fans.
What they hadn’t done, as we quickly found out to out cost, was to position enough of themselves in the gaps between the vans; rather they were too spread out, possibly waiting for further instructions from the Event Commander or maybe trying to cover to much ground for the y numbers they had available. What this meant in practical terms were a number of gaps big enough for people to easily pass through unhindered. And they did. In droves. Leading very quickly to disorder and brawling right outside the front of the stadium.
As we then battled to restore order and separate the two warring groups, I think it was more the realisation that they were about to miss the start of the match them caused the fighting to cease, rather than the presence of a couple of dozen yellow coat wearing cops waving silly little sticks about that caused the fighting to stop, and both groups scuttled of to their respective stands to watch the ‘gentleman’s game’ in action.
For us it was time to breathe. We’d been on the road since before 6.00am – 9 hours ago and already we were bushwhacked. As well as dealing with the one main crowd, we;d been split off here and there to deal with ‘sporadic outbursts’ across the town centre where small pockets of opposing fans had come into contact with varying degrees of outcome.
In a rare moment of forward planning, it had already been considered a high risk game and so plans had been made for early and late PSU’s and word came over the radio our relief vans were about to deploy into position so we could stand down and return to our home stations, tired, sweaty, battered and bruised.
The end of the game was to be another teams problem. And from the updates we got the following day, a problem it was, with more fighting and running battles after the match going on until mid evening.
It’s a great game football isn’t it ? ….or not ?
For me, I’d rather chuck a tin of wet paint at a wall and watch it dry but each to their own.
All I want to know is, considering all the vast amounts of money flying around in main league football, does the public really think the general taxation purse should have to keep forking out tens of thousands of pounds a time to deal with a problem that the game itself can’t get under control …. or should the clubs themselves be charged a fair old levy depending on the troublemakers associated with their club and ground ? That might just focus their minds just enough to do more to help stamp the problem out.