Monday, 2 May 2011

Tales from a Football Match

Saturday 30th April 2011 - the day I returned to policing football matches. It is something like 12 years since I last went to a Premier League football match in any capacity other than as a spectator. A decision not of my own choosing but down to an injury sustained when rammed by a stolen car in my traffic days.

Nonetheless, having recently re-qualified as a Public Order Officer; known colloquially as riot training I was determined to get back into the fold as quickly as possible. The first game I was able to volunteer for was the local Brummy derby between West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa. Whilst not the fiercest of rivals; Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City respectively hold that position; there was still a lot of 'local' pride in this for both clubs to add a little spice to an already competitive fixture.

Times have changed in policing football matches; gone is the wearing of simple street uniform and short briefings; now each officer is required to wear their public order protection with a normal street headgear. A sad but accurate reflection on the modern game and its sometimes violent nature. 

I arrived at Chelmsley Wood, my role was to be a PSU Commander, which basically means I was in charge of three Police vans; 21 constables and 3 sergeants under the call-sign Yankee Mike 173. The vans were made up of two from Solihull and one from Sutton Coldfield, the latter would meet us at the ground. First concern of the day - a number of my staff had gone on mutual aid to Bristol the night before so weren't available; fortunately a kindly sergeant on night duty had arranged replacements so we were able to set off in time for the briefing at the Hawthorns; the name of the ground.

It's been several years since I attended the club I supported as a youth - I was born within walking distance of the ground!! Things have changed and after a very professional briefing on the current intelligence and the match commanders preferred style of policing - friendly but positive; one of the bronze commanders gave me a tour of my postings. I later found out he is the husband of @LLuncoolJ on Twitter; which shows you never know who you are talking (or tweeting) to.

For Phase 1 we stood out on the Birmingham Road, a visible and hopefully reassuring presence for both sets of fans; gladly directing the fans to the right part of the ground. I saw three or four people I knew; some old friends too.

Suddenly there was a spot of bother at the turnstiles so I directed one of my vans there to help other officers; it turned out to be a bit of 'handbagging' - no disorder. Then we had a report of 50 rowdy Villa fans making their way to the ground and I directed a second van to meet and direct them to the visitors entrance; they were loud but well behaved.

The whistle went and the game was on; we were itching to get into the ground but it took fifteen minutes before we were released to our next posting, the Smethwick End between the two sets of fans. As we entered the ground; our postings were changed and I again had to split up my three vans into different parts of the ground; one going to the vomitories - an expression I'd never heard before but found out is the gap in the stands. No sooner had we entered than a steward told us about a fan who had shouted racist abuse at another fan. We quickly entered the crowd and arrested him. The ground has its own custody block before detainees are taken away to a local police station. Two officers escorted him to the 'block'; his arrest caused quite a stir in the crowd and loads of fans came to his defence saying he hadn't been racist. We gave all their details to the investigating officers for the subsequent enquiry.

I saw the manager of my local Costa working in the ground, not sure what as but he definitely didn't recognise me in my uniform, people seldom do! I had a good chat to several of the stewards; one told me that a WBA steward had been caught wearing a Villa badge - not good he said! 

I put one of my vans under a screen as directed; in case of flash disorder - the chanting between the fans was anything but good natured but I didn't see any disorder thankfully - 99% of the people there want to enjoy the game!!

My attention was drawn to some trouble near to one of the executive boxes; Villa fans were in it and exchanging pleasantries with the surrounding Baggies fans; the stewards sorted that one out, then a man was spotted drinking beer in the stands; this is against the law and so he was arrested; he'd obviously ignored the many signs telling him it wasn't allowed.

We swapped postings with another PSU and were then released to the outside Ground Commander for our final postings; Halfords Lane as far as the train/Metro station. This is a dual station for light and heavy rail and where both sets of fans end up trying to get home - an obvious flash point.

The final result was 2-1 to the Albion, I'm not sure it was entirely expected but as you can imagine the home fans were jubilant; so was I but far too professional to show it...... One of the Albion fans came up to me and shouted tell Mr Portman we won; this I admit confused me....  I am Mr Portman I said to him. He then looked confused until we both worked out that the local police football liaison officer is PC Portman and a Villa fan apparently; I promised to pass on the message.

We finally got the message we were waiting for from the Commander, 'is there any reason I cannot stand you down?' 

No, I said and thanked all my staff for their professionalism and promised to sign up any overtime incurred by them. Four and a half hours stood on my feet, my legs felt as if I had run a race.

And so my first game for 12 years was over and you know what; I really enjoyed it. I had fully intended to tweet all the way through but I was reminded of police rules that say mobile phones should not be used in public and on reflection it's probably right. I'm not sure the public would look kindly at an officer 'texting' in full uniform at the match; they're not going to know I'm tweeting and even if they did, would they understand?

I'm looking forward to the next football match I can volunteer for...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sir,

    Have enjoyed your musing for quite a bit, even though I have since left the UK in 2003 after my stint with the NHS. It is a trying time to be an Inspector in the last week in the wake of the goings on in London and the rest of the major cities. Can't resist asking if you'd be at the Albion game today (policing of course) against my beloved United today?

    Kuala Lumpur,