As the news filtered around the internet, it seemed almost like someone was having a joke. Wrexham’s away match at Dartford was to be moved from 3pm on a Saturday to 7.45pm on a Friday night on “police advice”.
The decision was baffling. Over 200 miles separate the two clubs and their first ever match-up; a 2 – 2 draw at the Racecourse; had played out with a lively but refreshingly good-humoured atmosphere. Dartford fans enjoyed the hospitality they received in Wrexham and were looking forward to returning it at Princes Park.
As more information came out, it emerged that the decision revolved around the possibility of travelling Wrexham fans meeting their Newport counterparts travelling to Ebbsfleet on the same day.
Given that matches between the two sides are for the most part relatively trouble-free and that the two sets of fans would probably arrive and depart from London at different stations it does appear to be overkill to avert what is, at worst, a minor risk.
Any organised disorder should then be dealt with in the usual fashion – by monitoring the rail networks and travelling with known troublemakers.
Moved kick-offs are fast becoming a feature of life for Wrexham fans. Wrexham’s home games against Telford, Hereford, Stockport and Newport – none of them previously considered flashpoints – have all had their kick-offs moved. As recently as last year, Stockport and Telford kicked off at the Racecourse at 3pm while the same was true for Hereford’s visits when both sides played in the Football League.
Telford away was played at 12 noon on 1st January. A thousand fans did successfully negotiate their New Year’s Day hangovers to arrive at the ground in time – a testament to our fantastic away support – but a kick-off at noon two hours down the road would certainly put off more casual fans. Many fans find games with moved kick-offs to be less enjoyable and less convenient than 3pm starts.
So what disorder was prevented? Wrexham’s Football Liaison Officer, Pete Jones, reports back:
Last year the kick off was 12 noon and it worked well for [West Mercia Police]. They also added that there were no incidents for the game so they consider the 12 noon kick off a success.
So there was no disorder between Telford United and Wrexham fans on either of our two visits there, yet West Mercia police claims this proves that moving kick-off was the right decision? That is astonishing.
The reasoning calls to mind Homer Simpson’s claim:
Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Homer’s fallacy is clear to see – there would probably be no bear even if there was no bear patrol. Correlation does not imply causation. A lack of trouble at a Telford United v Wrexham kicking off at noon does not mean that decision to kick off at noon was the right one. Rather, it strongly suggests the opposite – that the change was overkill.
The issue motivating this trend appears to be one of cost. Police forces, facing savage cuts to their budget and staff, are understanably keen to save money wherever they can. Noon kickoffs are cheaper to police than 3pm. A small Wrexham contingent at Dartford on a Friday night is cheaper to police than a larger one when Newport are nearby. The decisions, while shaky and unjustifiable from a supporter’s point of view are grounded in cold-headed arithmetic.
But while it’s easy to sympathise with police – cutting their costs associated with policing football allows them to avoid cutting back elsewhere – it is important to remember that football matches should happen at the convenience of fans not of the police. If a match can safely kick off at 3pm, it should. Allowing fans the time to have a drink before a game; to socialise around the town centre; to enjoy the matchday, may slightly increase the possibility of disorder. It may also increase the costs of policing but it’s also what a large number of fans want to do. The Police are public servants and football fans, as one of their constituencies, have a right to enjoy a match peacefully. Police Forces should seek to manage, not prevent this; to actually police rather than bully the club into changes that are against fans’ best interests.