Football – the good and the bad…

A review of over-zealous policing of the Division Two match between Shrewsbury Town and Newport County on 20th September 2014.

Read the published article, hosted by The Football Supporters Federation 

Full article text :

On Saturday I saw both sides of how supporters are welcomed to matches – both impressive responsiveness to supporter feedback, but also old-style attitudes that suggest some mindsets are still planted firmly in the 1980s.

First the good points and the praise. Despite the dire nil-nil draw and the inability of either team to conjure up any quality in front of goal it was, overall, an enjoyable experience. The stadium isn’t as faceless as some of the newer bowls, the locals were friendly and talkative, and the atmosphere was pretty good for a crowd of its size.

There had been a minor problem with the way the queues at the ticket office worked, and on Monday morning I emailed Shrewsbury Town to suggest a solution to that.  Less than half an hour later, I received a positive and helpful reply from Matt Williams, the Shrews’ Chief Executive. Now that’s real customer service and responsiveness and worthy of praise – if only more football clubs were so responsive to customers and communicated so well with them!


But sadly my overriding memory from this game will be the way it was policed.  I can’t remember when I saw quite so many police gathered for a match, with an attitude quite so hostile and unwelcoming.  It really was quite striking just how many police were deployed – literally in every direction you looked there were more and more groups of police.

On the way to the game I’d expected to see one or two police – after all, this was a League Two match with a likely attendance of around 5,000.  But what I saw was the complete opposite, and I was astounded at the scale of the police presence – far more visible and confrontational than I’ve seen at many Championship or Premier League matches.

As an example of the extreme numbers there, deployed close to one roundabout after the match I counted 32 police, eight of whom were restraining one supporter, presumably arrested, who was prone on the ground – just in case eight weren’t enough, a police dog was excitedly assisting.

That was just a small part of the police operation, which was even more numerous closer to the ground. But it wasn’t just the numbers involved that left a nasty taste in the mouth – it was the attitude and general hostility of the police that made me think we were back in the 80s.

This wasn’t an exercise in co-operative, community policing – this was an aggressive show of force and hostility, clearly intended to intimidate.  There was even an old, tatty bus that was being used by the police to ferry away fans to and from the station – by the looks of it whether they wanted to go there or not!  This was escorted by two police motorbikes and a transit van full of police.

Just to sum up the whole attitude in one single incident, after the game an old bloke walking near me, a Shrewsbury supporter in his 70s, jovially remarked to one of these officers, “Boy, there’s a lot of you today, aren’t there?”

The only response he received was a curt, “Just f*ck off home”…

I clearly don’t have any intelligence about the risk factors around this match, but I’d be amazed if there was any level of risk that would justify the truly astounding numbers of police involved, or their attitude and hostility.  The operation is even harder to believe when you consider that the Home Office’s football arrest statistics, released last week, show that last season there were just four Shrewsbury Town supporters arrested at home matches, and just nine Newport County fans at away matches.

I wonder what the financial impact is to Shrewsbury Town of having to fund so many police deployed on their premises?  Similarly, I wonder if the Council Tax payers of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire are aware of just how their police are being deployed – or the impression that visitors to the area are given by the hostile attitude they bring to football policing.

Because the memory I take away from my afternoon’s entertainment isn’t anything to do with football – sadly it’s to do with the attitude of the officers of West Mercia Constabulary, just how unwelcoming, unsophisticated and Neanderthal they were, and how unpleasant it is to be regarded as a potential criminal just because I attend a football match.

So, West Mercia Constabulary, please take note that it’s not 1980s any more – football supporters and society have all moved on – but you don’t seem to have done the same.