Saturday 16 March 15:27
Supporters are the solution not the cause
I am writing this on the eve of a game which is seen by both sets of supporters as part 2 of a 2 game series. Since June supporters of both clubs have looked for three games, who they are playing on Boxing Day (a mute point this year for Brighton fans) and when the matches against Palace are.
This is only natural. Its the big game. The ones the fans get most excited about. The ones were the atmosphere in the ground is at its best. But it has a dark side.
Some believe that these fixtures are an excuse for criminality. In the past they have used the name of Brighton and Crystal Palace to drink to excess, be anti social and on occasion assault people. What is more worrying, and surprising, is that historically, the overall majority of people who done this in the past have no criminal record and have come from, what would be classed as, good family backgrounds.
Lets be clear over this, tomorrow will see 28,000+ supporters attend with 2600 supporters coming from Crystal Palace. The overwhelming majority of these will be there to see and support their respective teams. Mum’s, Dad’s taking youngsters to see their idols and hoping thier side will win. These are the life blood of every team. The ones that pay the wages of the players and keep their clubs going. For Brighton great examples are those who have attended Bristol, Bolton and Barnsley in the last week, travelling in excess of 1200 miles, spending hundreds of pounds to see their team play.
But the message I have to those who want to attend on Sunday with other intentions is simple. Don’t. Think about the consequences of your actions. An arrest could lead to a charge and a football banning order. It could mean your picture in the press and the impact that could have on your family, friends and work colleagues. You may have to surrender your passport when England play away games which could limit you’re travelling abroad. That could impact your family life.
March 17th sees 9 months of planning come to an end. Within this period we have had numerous meetings with Brighton and Hove Albion FC, Crystal Palace FC, Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police and most importantly the supporters clubs of both clubs. We looked at what happened at Selhurst Park and we also sat down and looked at what happened at the Amex last year. The most important part of the engagement was the meetings with numerous supporters groups from both teams. They realised that there is not much difference between them apart from the shirt they wear on match days! It let people come around a table and discuss the way forward. We will not dictate to you, we actively seek ideas from the fans that travel the country. You are paying alot of money for entertainment; our role is to work alongside the football club and ensure that you get there and back safely. That is the reason you are part of the solution.
For those of you going on Sunday, whether you be a seagull or an eagle. Enjoy the day. For those of you going with other intentions, please think hard about what I have said above. Your team could be in the Premiership next year. Do you really want to miss that?
For up to date information on the day follow @suspolfootball and @sussex_police
Thursday 15 November 15:54
One thing the police service is sometimes criticised for is its communication. Now that might seem a weird concept as the role of a police officer is varied to say the least - and gets more varied as the years go on! Behind all aspects of policing has to be some form of communication; if you can’t talk to people, you are in the wrong job.
I recall when I was a tutor constable and I had the task of introducing brand new fresh faced bobbies straight from training school into the ‘dark’ world (to cite Peter James) that is Brighton - you’ll know what I mean if you read his books!
For the first few days we would walk along the seafront and talk to members of the street community, unfortunately, in those days there was no help or advice as there is today under the excellent leadership of Sgt Siggs and the street community team. We’d spend time together, calling into shops and liaising with shopkeepers. ‘Liaising’ normally meant a cuppa or a quick chat, we were visible and the officers were learning about our communities. The public could come and speak to us and we could respond to calls. My main reason for this approach was to boost the confidence of new colleagues who, the week before, could have been a fisherman, builder, store person or estate agent (hold on, they talk A LOT for a living!).
Of course members of the public don’t know when officers have only just joined us, the uniform is all that is seen and that is sometimes good but can be bad. Occasionally, I had officers that knew the law but felt a bit nervous going up to members of the public for the first time, felt like they couldn’t have a laugh with members of the public who we would normally only meet if they were in trouble. On another note, if you see a policemen walking towards you, please don’t say “behave or he/she will take you away” to your children - they will need to seek us out if they (heaven forbid) get lost - not be petrified of us!
So, going back to those officers who knew the law like an encyclopaedia but were finding their feet when communicating with the public. We used to catch the train to Gatwick and we would walk round the terminal. What better place could there possibly be to speak to people? All are generally happy; I say generally as those who are still waiting to check in with five children and have mislaid their passports are always somewhat ‘tense’. After a few hours round the terminal talking to people you could see the confidence on my colleagues’ faces by the time we returned to the south.
Nowadays, my role as the Football Liaison Officer is still all about communication; whether it’s with senior officers, other departments within our service, pub landlords, the council, the press, the club, the manager or most importantly the fans. My role has its daily demands which often involve juggling plates.
This is evident as we edge closer and closer to what is one of the biggest games of the season for Brighton fans - our game with Crystal Palace. This game creates more talking points than any I can remember. Those who live north of the river Thames or in other parts of England, often don’t understand it; how can a game between two clubs separated by 46 miles be classed as a derby? What are the issues? Why does it generate such passion between two sets of supporters which can, unfortunately, sometimes turn to violence?
From my perspective, one incident of violence at any game is too many. Passion is great but aggression is stepping well over the line. I know this view is shared by the majority of those who will be attending and at the moment we’re working alongside multiple supporters club groups who represent different sections of the community so that everyone can enjoy the upcoming game. Earlier this month we held a meeting at Crystal Palace Football club and invited representatives from BHAFC, Met Police, British Transport Police, Crystal Palace FC, Crystal Palace supporters club groups, Brighton and Hove Albion Supporters club groups both Crystal Palace and Brighton message board representatives and the Football Supporters Federation to discuss the forthcoming match at Selhurst Park.
This was the supporters’ chance to ask really frank questions about policing and for us to ask the fans for suggestions on how we could ensure our primary function of keeping the peace and preventing disorder could be achieved. The meeting was excellent and both sets of supporters contributed to it greatly.
We will be using social media feeds on the day giving live updates and information. A fact sheet will be published prior to the game explaining what will be happening on the day so all are informed in good time. For those of you who are on twitter #eaglesseagulls will be the search thread for information from now right up to the match day. If it all goes well, we will do the same for the return match at the Amex. (#seagullseagles)
So, to summarise above, our role
sdon’t always allow us to fully converse, but where we can, we do and I hope that by entering these discussions now about this upcoming game we can put into place plans that will enable everyone to enjoy this fixture. I know that after the game, as with every single football match I am involved in, I will drive back home to the dog who needs a walk or my youngest who just wants to climb over daddy and think, could have I done anything differently? What could I improve?
The day you stop asking yourself those questions is the day you should move on.
Tuesday 14 August 15:33
What is banter?
I thought my next blog should look at what Sussex Police does to try and combat homophobia within football.
Now let me make it very clear - I recognise that there is other discrimination associated with sport and social groups. I use the word discrimination as it has a very broad meaning. It can be interpreted in many ways and some can use it to their own advantage where clearly they are not being discriminated against. This detracts from where there is clear discrimination. A common retort police officers are faced with is “What about my human rights?”. Well, in fairness, some things are not a right but a privilege.
The city of Brighton and Hove is sometimes called cosmopolitan. That’s an understatement! It’s a vibrant city that has its issues, just like any other city. It has its eccentric side, it has its social issues and it also has a large LGBT community. This means, just like in other cities and towns, our policing has to come from the community we serve. It is made up of individuals with different life experiences bringing their own skills to the city we police. Police officers do not need a degree, they need common sense. They need to understand the community they work in and gain the respect of the public to assist them in their day-to-day lives. Some names to mention at this stage would be PC Rachel Piggott and PC Rich Bridger and the excellent work they do within the LGBT community. This is a very difficult job with people who may distrust the police or, maybe due to their own personal choice / circumstances, do not know which way to turn. Their work sometimes can’t be measured by figures but we would be letting the people of Brighton and Hove down if this kind of neighbourhood policing wasn’t in place.
So, how does this affect me and my role? Well affect is probably the wrong word and forgive me for my clumsiness with some of my vocabulary. As stated earlier, I am not an officer who obtained many qualifications. What I have learned is through life experience and listening. As we start the new season, Brighton and Hove Albion will be playing a minimum of 48 games against opposition from all over the country. They will be visiting towns and cities which also have their own respective issues and challenges for each individual force. One thing I will guarantee is that chanting of a homophobic nature will be heard at, I would say, 70% + of their games. So what do we do about it? Well let’s be honest here - if 500 people are chanting “does your boyfriend know you’re here?” are we going to arrest them? No. Are the stewards going to eject them? No. Is it a criminal offence? I will let you answer that in your head because I bet if 12 people answered that question not all would have the same answer.
We (Sussex Police) lobbied the FA to change the ground regulations. The regulations already made it very clear that racist language was a breach and, therefore, you were likely to be ejected/arrested if you made these comments. The ground regulations now state that racist and/or homophobic language is a breach. This is a major step forward as the responsibility for the stadium is down to the club. In fairness to the FA, once this was asked for, it was put in place. A little bit quicker than goal line technology…..
Brighton fans have come up with their own comeback to the earlier taunt. “You’re too ugly to be gay” is often sung back, especially at away games. This somewhat confuses the home supporters but there is normally a begrudging acknowledgement to a witty comeback.
Now the question still stands - is the above a criminal offence? I would say no. Is it a breach of the ground regulations? Yes, without doubt. But discretion is often used by safety officers in regard to how this is dealt with.
If this was the level of chanting that Brighton experienced then I think the matter would be easy to deal with. But it’s not. There has been vile chanting at some matches. I will not repeat this or specify where as, if you are a Brighton fan, you will know what I mean. But worse sometimes are the reactions / no action of the stewards / police. This infuriates supporters more than anything. Again I go back to earlier in this blog - they don’t expect everyone to be ejected / arrested. They do expect to see behaviour challenged and the ringleaders dealt with.
I have said this before and truly believe this. In dealing with homophobia, we are 20 years behind where we are with racist behaviour at games. If someone is racist at a match then there would be more than one spectator pointing out the individual. If homophobic comments are made some people still think it is funny - like Brighton fans have not heard it before!
What is an evolving issue is the social media aspect (he says writing this through social media!) Twitter and Facebook are great tools but can also be the downfall of many. I’d stick with one simple rule. If you would not say it to the face of the person, don’t write it.
A little while ago I was at home and my phone started to go mad. The number of texts I received made me check the phone (something I try not to do when off duty but nearly always break the rule). I was alerted to some quite vicious homophobic tweeting. This was a major topic on one of Brighton’s main message boards, some criticising police involvement, some telling others to get a life. It was interesting to read the ‘judge and jury approach’. By the next morning we had identified the three individuals responsible. I also spoke to a fan who was particularly affected by the comments and who gave me a very personal victim statement about what had happened to them and their partner when they had both been bullied. So do I now arrest the three? I could, but what would that achieve? It would leave them with a possible criminal record and maybe ruin their lives, all for the sake of complete ignorance and stupidity from behind a keyboard. Well, after consultation with those affected, I am visiting the three houses of the males and sitting down with their parents talking through their actions.
So, I leave you with this thought: before you tweet or Facebook something, is it acceptable to say it to someone’s face? If you would not say it to friends you know, then do not say it to strangers or hide behind a keyboard.
Banter is fine in football and should be encouraged. It is part of the fabric of football. But think about what is banter and what is not.
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Thursday 2 August 20:42
One Year On....
I thought it would be fitting for my first blog to look back at around 12 months ago. In fairness this time last year I was just wishing the first game to be played….
Brighton supporters are like no other. That’s mainly because they have had to endure a roller coaster like no other supporters have. They are a hardy bunch, a community that meet once a week in the Brighton area then travel once a week to a different part of the country, and they travel in numbers, they were the 5th best supported away team in the Championship last year. They have had to endure losing their home to DFS / Comet and JJB sports. They have had to endure a 150 mile round trip to play home games and they have had to endure playing at was a Zoo / athletics stadium whilst losing revenue due to limited capacity, poor facilities and whilst funding more than one planning application and public enquiry to get where they are today.
So, at the second time of asking, planning is approved on an area of land north east of Brighton. True each site looked at had its plus and minus points and true each had its vocal protest groups. But Falmer was chosen and thats where my job got real.
Policing at Withdean was fairly straight forward. The away fans eventually positioned somewhere near Portslade and the home fans so far away from the pitch anyone throwing an object onto the playing surface would not have been arrested but invited to compete this week in East London. But to a Brighton fan it was a home. Good Policemen never get wet, try keeping dry at Withdean!!
Everyone has an opinion, and that is the way in the police. But the ones that count are the ones that back up their theory / philosophies with evidence and substance. I would point out at this point I counted myself in this category, how do you start planning for a policing operation at a brand new stadium? It would be easy to carbon copy other forces, but all forces do it differently. You need to tailor the response to what you are faced with, and that can be swayed by how you approach it.
I will mention some names now. Supt Simon Nelson, Sgt Ali Marshman, Supt Steve Whitton and Ch Supt Graham Bartlett were the main project group as to how our policing approach would be. My role was to be the gopher. From about two years prior to last season alongside my main role as liaison officer to supporters I looked at over 40 policing operations across the country and took ideas from other forces on their approach and ways. I was assisted greatly by my colleagues across the country with endless protocols in place with clubs, policing operational plans and good (and bad) examples of partnership working and where the partnerships had broken down. This was all fed back to Brighton command and where i thought appropriate the above named would accompany me to matches to look at their respective roles and how they did it. What this empowered all was to speak, with confidence, that we had done our homework and spoke with the confidence that what we would set out to achieve had a fighting chance of being obtainable. This was, in plain and simple terms, a neighbourhood style policing model which comnpliments a customer care approach from the stewards. Sure there will be times when this would need to change to a public order situation, but why should that be the starting point and would all 22,000 supporters need that (or most importantly want) that? ?
June came and the fixtures came out, they read like a who’s who of large supporter based teams coming down to the seaside. We, at a time like all had to lose valued members of staff who performed as vital role as any police officer, had to increase policing. What was going to be the effect on Friday night / Saturday night? How many police did we need? Would there be many issues we would need to deal with? Like all walks of life, sit 12 police officers in a room and you will get 12 different answers..
Key to our planning was the relationship with the club and thats where my role comes into play. Many meetings, but surprisingly very little disagreement. I think on both sides there were people in the wings waiting to say “I told you so”
So, with a sense of extreme apprehension The American Express Community Stadium opened officially to a dream league match against the last opponents at the Goldstone Ground. Would the trains have enough capacity? Where would most fans drink pre and post match? What had I not thought of? I admit at this point to having to put a notepad and pen on my bedside cabinet as waking up at 4 am is no fun with a bright idea and then forgetting it in the morning..
So the first season has come and gone. Over 600,000 people attended the Amex. We had Newcastle, Sunderland, Liverpool, Leeds, Palace the list goes on. 67 arrests in total, an average gate around 20,000 and a stadium which I can assure you with the expansion over the close season is looking superb.
I say the above with a sense of pride. Am I a Brighton fan? No, (a suffering red half of Manchester at present) Do I feel part of the Brighton family, absolutely. Am I passionate about my role, without any doubt. The stadium is a living monument to those Seagulls fans who suffered for so long, and for those who never saw it finished. I remember standing in the tunnel at the first game seeing people I have had the pleasure of working with over the last 12 years taking their padded seat in their new home minus a poncho.
My role has been to ensure Sussex Police play their part in ensuring your match day experience is a good one. Yes we get things wrong, but no one will tell me where I have failed as I will already know. I am my hardest critic. However my role, with the support of the above named and now lead by Ch Insp Paul Betts continues to be the most rewarding I could have dreamed off. Its a priviledged role as a football fan and a community policemen.
As a huge supporter of the Seagulls wrote “We’ve come a long long way together”
I intend to give you an inside view of what goes into match days, it will be honest and my own thoughts about policing and sometimes stories that hit the headlines. All feedback is greatly received.