A £3k policing bill looks set to spoil Gloucester City’s weekend but is it justified?
Football hooligans, they are on the rise in parts of Europe (some of the blogs about Russia are particularly scary) but in the Blue Square North? Really?
There have been a few well documents ‘issues’ this year – Nuneaton v Telford, Stafford v Telford – but nothing outside the realms of two former giants meeting at a lower level or what is essentially a local derby. Tyres have been thrown, windows smashed but no massive hooligan riots, no significance violence on the terraces.
The Association of Chief Police Officers’ figures for last season show that 11 AFC Telford United fans are currently the subject of banning orders and none were handed out last season. Although it’s fair to note a few have been dished out this season albeit for unsavoury behaviour at a local derby, mainly due to the Stafford game. Its hard to remember the last time someone was arrested at a Gloucester City home game, the gate is rarely over 350 and has dropped below 200 on a couple of occasions this year, its normally home fans with a handful of hardy northerners who’ve braved the motorway to the most southern outpost of the league.
So what would prompt Gloucestershire Police to possibly hand GCAFC a rumoured £3,000 bill for the Easter Monday game against AFC Telford? The game has an increased risk of trouble apparently, presumably up to an A risk on the ACPO chart, ‘slight’ as opposed to ‘none.’
But still, £3,000.
Break it down and with a gate of 350, each paying around £10 (entrance is £12 for adults and a bit less for concessions), then City won’t even cover costs – which when you consider the club gets no money from the bar take (thanks to being homeless and groundsharing) and has already had a cut to the playing budget for the first time in six years, is pretty galling. The BBC reported the monolithic beast which is Gloucester Rugby Club was charged £5,500 per game a few years ago – they get 15,000 at Kingsholm, £3,000 to police (far) fewer than 1,000 people is a bit steep. The figures do not compare to similar costs in Scotland or in Devon and Cornwall (a Freedom of Information request on comparative costs in the Gloucestershire, with Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers is currently pending)
Gloucester are currently calling the Abbey Business Stadium ‘home,’ it’s a League Two ground, (home to Cheltenham Town) and part of the rent deal (£45k a season) includes the stewards, League Two stewards. The facilities for segregation are better than arguably any other ground in the league and the stewards are used to dealing with Hereford, Oxford and Millwall visiting, Telford will be small fry to them. The only game segregated so-far this season was Boston (and the pre-season friendly and county cup games with the landlords) they only brought about 100 fans and all was well, they didn’t stop away fans visiting the bar after the game despite the segregation. Nuneaton brought the same amount, weren’t segregated and stood alongside the City fans, again no trouble. An Alfreton fan even ran onto the pitch last week (to retrieve the ball when he thought the home side were time wasting), not much happened, on an alternative (Football League) weekend he’d have been fined, banned and booted out the ground.
Now another moot point is the fact that the police already attend most Gloucester City home games. There has been anything up to six police officers at the ABS, not on official business, not invited, just there. The Football Intelligence Officer, you can understand why he’d be there (no doubt he will be reading this at some point too), but the rest of them just seem to pop in to watch the game or sit in the control tower and have a cup of tea. Why can’t they do that on Monday? And, seeing as they are so familiar with the atmosphere on match days why do they think Telford will be any different?
Yes Telford have developed a bit of a reputation but let’s not forget that they don’t really enjoy coming to Gloucestershire. Their bus had a brick thrown at it when they played Forest Green Rovers in the Setanta Shield (RIP) – an especially nasty incident which saw a young boy injured when the window broke and one which you’d not normally associate with the Stroud valleys. Last season when Telford visited the Corinium Stadium in Cirencester, where City were playing their home games, there was no segregation and the visitors brought their own stewards and there was no trouble whatsoever. So you’d think, bigger stadium, better stewarding, easy segregation – even less chance of trouble.
It’s not like the game means anything either, Telford are set for the play-offs and can’t beat Alfreton to win the league, Gloucester are lurking in the bottom half of the table. The fact that Telford are play-off contenders may well hit the travelling numbers, many will be opting for a game which does matter rather than a trip down the M6/M5 on a Bank Holiday.
The club are understandably annoyed. Chairman Nigel Hughes told the local paper The Citizen the club was already struggling with finances and a big invoice from Gloucestershire Constabulary wasn’t going to help matters.
“Playing at Whaddon Road means that we fall under the safety advisory group rules that govern games at Football League grounds,” Hughes said.
“I could understand the risk if we were looking at a crowd of around 2-3,000, but we’re averaging 341 this season.
“We, of course, understand that the police have to do a job and that they are only looking at the safety of the fans at the ground.
“But we’ve had a policing presence at all of our games this season – uninvited and unneeded – and there has not been a single problem.
“If they can afford to send officers for a normal matchday then why can’t they do that this time?”
The police have said the measures were first considered back in July when the fixtures came out and have suggested they may review the policing need in the lead up to the game.
Chief Inspector Derek Jones told the Citizen:
“All league fixtures held at Whaddon Road in Cheltenham are examined by Gloucestershire Police to see if there is a policing requirement.
“At the start of the season in July last year a provisional assessment of fixtures for Gloucester City games was agreed with the club chairman and this fixture appeared to require a policing response.
“Special policing services such as this do incur a charge to the club rather than the taxpayer, which is agreed to at the start of the season.
“The decision to provide policing at the match is continually reviewed on the run-up to the fixture and planning meetings are held regularly to discuss whether the policing response needs to change.
“The club chairman has been invited to all of these meetings and given the opportunity to make representations.”
The ACPO guidance on policing football games states that co-operation between the club and police is the ‘most important component’ to ensure matches are safe, with minimal disorder. It also states:
“The elements that constitute an effective working relationship include empathy, trust, honesty and clarity of roles and expectations.
Compromise by one or both parties may also be required at times.”
Empathy is an interesting inclusion in this, surely Gloucestershire Police could empathise with the club and realise that £3,000 is an unrealistic charge and reach a compromise?
When calculating cost ACPO says:
“There is no prescriptive method for calculating the policing resource
requirements that should be assigned to each match category. The
proposed requirements should, however, reflect an objective and
justifiable assessment of the resources required to minimise the risk of
To achieve this, a variety of factors will need to be considered, for example:
• The resources allocated to each match category during the previous season (taking account of the impact of relegation or promotion if applicable);
• An assessment of whether the number of police resources used was appropriate for the previous season’s fixture involving the same teams;
• The anticipated attendance – but only insofar as it affects potential disorder;
• The significance of a fixture, eg, local derby or cup fixture;
So for this instance, resources last year – minimal and no trouble, so surely a repeat fixture at a far safer ground would mean much the same? Surely? Last year City were still in a relegation dogfight so if anything the fixture had more ‘significance.’
Its hard not to be cynical and say that the police are looking for a Bank Holiday bumper pay day with the rest going in the (vastly reduced) Constabulary kitty. Once again Gloucester City are damned by the consequences of the groundshare – League Two rules for a club which are unlikely to play that high in the foreseeable future. Whilst the need for appropriate policing is clear, £3,000 seems an awful lot, the stewards at Cheltenham are perfectly capable (they ejected a City fan for swearing earlier this season), they are used to dealing with far greater numbers of fans and there is rarely trouble at Cheltenham games
To end this rant it is probably worth pointing out that Gloucester City’s playing budget is rumoured to be around £2,000, a full grand less than the police could be paid to watch them on Monday, lets hope they review the decision.