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Like many local rivals, Blackburn Rovers and Burnley have more in common than either would care to admit, and the rivalry between the two clubs has the added bonus of rarity value. This weekend, they meet at Ewood Park in the Premier League. It’s the first time that they have met in the top flight since the 1965/66 season, and they have only managed a handful of matches against each other in any competition since the early 1980s. There is, therefore, cause for the Lancashire Constabulary to be concerned at the possibility of trouble arising with the two clubs meeting, but the police decision to designate this match a “bubble match” is putting the spotlight on a controversial policing method which, it could be argued, puts thousands of people to considerable inconvenience for no particularly good reason.
“Bubble matches” are becoming more and more commonplace. In short, they are matches for which travelling supporters can only get tickets if they travel on special transport laid on from specific pick-up points. Superficially, it seems like a reasonable plan which allows the police to monitor all travelling supporters with ease, but things aren’t quite as simple as that and it could be argued that bubble matches cause more problems than they solve. Penned into escorts and herded from A to B could certainly be argued to be a gross infringement of civil liberties and, from a practical perspective, it has been argued that such strong-arm tactics increase tensions and create an atmosphere of “us and them” between police & stewards and supporters when such an atmosphere need not exist.
Moreover, it puts a considerable number of people to enormous inconvenience. It is facile to assume that all Burnley supporters live in Burnley, and the assumption that they should all have to travel from designated pick-up points because they can’t be trusted to make an eleven mile journey without being monitored (and, no doubt, filmed) is a lazy and expedient one. Cases of Burnley supporters living in Blackburn that are having to travel back to Burnley in order to travel back to the town in which they now live only serve to highlight the absurdity of much of the travelling that will be commonplace in this particular corner of Lancashire on Sunday morning. In addition to this, travelling supporters have to pay £5 for the privilege of this monitoring and they have to convene at their pick-up points at 9.15 in the morning, arriving at Ewood Park approximately two hours before kick-off.
All of this might be considered worthwhile if it could be guaranteed that the match would pass off peaceably but, of course, this cannot be guaranteed. The 3,000 people that have bought tickets for the away end at Ewood Park will be Burnley season ticket holders. The club already hold all of their details, and these are the people that are the least likely to cause trouble at an away match. Unless the police are planning on closing the M65 – the road that links the two towns – and stopping rail services between them on Sunday morning, they can’t prevent people from travelling between the two towns and anybody that is likely to cause trouble would be unlikely to travel on officially designated transport or, it could be argued, be that bothered about even being inside Ewood Park come Sunday lunchtime when they have their pathetic little battles to fight elsewhere in any case.
In addition to this, genuine Burnley supporters that don’t want the hassle of being herded from Burnley to Blackburn like cattle may already have decided to not buy tickets in the Burnley end for the match and have bought them in the home areas of the stadium. If we are to assume that keeping the supporters apart inside the stadium is successful in keeping trouble to a minimum, creating a situation in which it may even be considered that there are benefits for away supporters buying tickets in the home end (and, considering how difficult Blackburn find it to fill Ewood Park on a Saturday afternoon, this has to be considered a possibility) seems to be counter-productive and counter-intuitive. The Blackburn website states that a “purchase history” is necessary to buy tickets for the home seats, but it seems unlikely that this would be impossible to circumvent. All of this, though, pales into insignificance alongside the fact that any serious trouble would be more likely than not to happen away from the stadium, where it is considerably more difficult for the police to keep an eye on groups of people.
It would be nice to think that the authorities (and by that we mean all of them – both clubs have been fairly complicit in this) might like to take a moment to consider the old truism that people are more likely to behave like animals if you treat them as such. This, however, seems likely to fall upon deaf ears and if there is any trouble on Sunday it will be unilaterally blamed on supporters with very few people stopping to consider that there were alternatives available to ferrying people from Burnley to Blackburn like battery chickens in an atmosphere that was only likely to increase hostility and tension on a day during which tensions may be running higher than normal anyway. It seems even less likely that anyone will pay much attention if we point out that football matches serve as very convenient excuses for people that like to fight, and that this particular problem is one that is more to do with society in general than football itself.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
The FSF agree with you on this, as we commented last week:
The trouble with bubbles is , a some point, they always burst. And the bigger the bubble, the bigger the pop.
There’s a lot of truth in what you say, and the point about caging people in makes them behave like animals was one used for many years about having perimeter fencing at crappy stadiums, until Hillsborough showed it up for being the farce it was – or maybe not. Maybe without Hillsborough, people wouldn’t have the respect for the field of play that they generally have now (and certainly didn’t have in the 1970’s).
Ordinarily, I’d be sitting here in Swansea waiting to welcome our neighbours from up the M4 in a few weeks, but this time it’s home tickets only. It doesn’t matter – in 2006, we played at the Millennium Stadium twice in two months, they weren’t bubbled, we had the run of Cardiff, and I don’t believe there was any trouble at all. But that was probably down to excellent policing and stewarding – that sort of resource required generally won’t be stretched to for every league game, and the bubble seems to be the best alternative.
The “Purchase History” point is well made – how much history? I received a number of things from Blackburn for 2-3 years about matches and support (and for all I know, they may still arrive at my old address.) The purchase history in this case was some tickets for the England-Greece U21s game at Ewood back in 2001! All it might take is to know someone that’s had some corporate hospitality at Ewood Park, and they have a path in….
The whole point about derby games is that they’re between teams that are close together, supporters therefore live cheek by jowl, trying to police this by the bubble is a bit like trying to stop a leak with a sieve.
Fully agree. The police tactics for this game are way over the top and is likely to stir up more problems. We will be publishing our thoughts later this week at http://www.fansonline.net/burnley
I’m also aware of a good number of Burnley fans that have got their hands on tickets in the home ends. For a game of such local importance and rivalry, I don’t see how these fans will be able to keep their emotions under control and I fear trouble will flare up in the stands and it will more than likely not involve hooligans, but your average football fans that are passionate about their club that have had their choices taken away from them.
I am a Burnley fan who lives in the Blackburn area. My son once went to watch Blackburn v Man Utd with a school friend and we recieve literature from them on a monthly basis and I could of easily bought a number of tickets for the Derby match.
I gave my ticket numbers to some friends to purchase tickets for this match as I will not be treated like a common thug.
The other week I watched Man Utd fans and Man City fans walking to the ground together having a laugh and some good old fashioned banter. There were 78000 at this match not a poxy 30000 and the Police did their jobs and kept trouble to a minimum!
This whole situation basically shows what East Lancashire has turned into a Lazy easy option Police state.
I dont think you understand the nature of this game. Blackburn and Burnley have not played each other for nearly 30 years in top flight football. The town’s have a history, which in simple terms is pure hatred!! The police are doing the right thing, the chances of trouble are huge as no doubt there will be some mindless thugs there looking for trouble. Comparing the Manchester derby is no comparision!!
No-one would be walking in laughing together. I work near Burnley and live near Blackburn, the banter certailnly isn’t friendly!!!
There is no other Derby like this. You should keep your mindless opinions to your self, the only point you make is the ticket situation but thats the clubs issue!! Burnley fans should be treated like thugs because most of you are, blame your fellow burnley fans for the way you are treated.
Hopefully Rovers will win easliy!!!!
It just goes to show that you can’t be too careful.
This ‘Bubble’ match system has been in place for a number of years now. I read on websites and national newspapers that Burnley fans are being put out by having to travel all the way to their stadium to get a coach, and this is due to the trouble between West Ham and Millwall. This is simply not true. For both ties in the F.A cup some 5 years ago, this same system happened, and I also think for the game in 2000.
When Burnley fans couldn’t get to the Rovers fans after losing at home in 1999, they decided to riot in their own town. This policing is necessary because trouble will otherwise flare up. It sad, but its not a new thing to have to be herded in like this, and people walking in side by side would simply not happen. Make no mistake, this is one of the biggest derbies around – just ask anyone involved.
i seem to remeber the ‘bubble match’ system being used when we played burnley in the cup a few years ago
Not like the Lancashire Polis to over react to a situation…….
[…] an interesting piece on the big Lancashire derby taking place this weekend over at twohundredpercent.net. It’s the first time that Blackburn and Burnley have played each other in a long time – […]
[…] compliance. It is a tactic that police forces around the UK have used – fans from Bristol City, Burnley, Cardiff City, and Wolves have all been on the receiving end in recent […]