Police and clubs unite in wish for police-free football

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IT may surprise those fans whose main diet of football consists of watching big games on TV, but most regulated football matches, 53 per cent, in England and Wales last season were not attended by police.

These so-called “police-free” games are entirely policed inside the stadium by stewards, although there will be a police inspector inside the control room monitoring proceedings and six officers outside, should they be needed to manage a pubic safety issue.

It is an arrangement clubs and police would like to see more of, reducing costs for both and crucially, freeing up police resources for their chief role of protecting communities.

Police-free matches have passed off peacefully at many of the region’s clubs this season, including at Bradford City and Huddersfield Town, and it is anticipated there will be 12 such fixtures at Barnsley this season.

Don Rowing, managing director at Barnsley, said: “I think the police and the club can work more closely together in reducing the number of policemen we have attending games and whether they can use their resources in a much better way. One of the things we could do is to increase the number of stewards we employ.

“There’s got be a common sense approach to it. We are regularly being told by the police authorities that their budgets have been cut and clubs could help them by policing more games themselves.

“We have a very good relationship with South Yorkshire Police and I don’t see why that would need to alter.”

Chief Supt Andy Brooke, divisional commander for Barnsley, said: “I really want more matches with less police because the more time spent on football is less time spent in communities.

“Categories (level of risk) at Oakwell have been significantly reduced. We had Cardiff recently as ‘Category A’ (low risk) with 14 officers and three to five years ago that was 200 to 300 officers.”

However, today’s visitors to Oakwell are Leeds United and it is a “Category C” fixture, the highest risk, that will be policed by 200 officers from South Yorkshire Police and 50 from West Yorkshire Police.

Police will be visible, but what fans will not see is the weeks of preparation and planning that have gone into it, involving intelligence assessments and liaising with the clubs, supporters’ groups, and British Transport Police.

The operation begins at 9am and will last until the evening. “It will be a long, cold day for the police,” said Mr Brooke. “Hopefully it will be remembered for the football and nothing else.”