Opinion: It’s time to burst the football fans’ ‘bubble’

policeThe travel arrangements for Hull City fans wanting to attend their team’s away trip to Huddersfield later this month probably haven’t caught the attention of too many Lib Dem Voice readers. And why should they?

Here’s why.

West Yorkshire Police (WYP) have decided to make the game a “bubble” match. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular policing tactic, it involves forcing all fans to travel on designated coaches, from specific pick up points, to and from the game. If fans want to make their own way to the game, they can’t. If you don’t go on the coaches, you don’t get a ticket. No independent travel is allowed.

The basis for imposing the “bubble” in this instance is because the game kicks off at 5.20pm and WYP believe the extra drinking hours may encourage disorder. However, as the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) points out:

“not a single Hull City fan was arrested for an alcohol offence last season. During the 2011/12 season only 14 Tigers fans were arrested at games and half of those arrests occurred at home fixtures.”

So, Hull fans are being treated as potential criminals and having draconian restrictions placed on them in order to prevent disturbances that there is no evidence to suggest will take place.
In a recent article on the subject, Duleep Allirajah, the sports columnist for Spiked, raised the question:

“Why is there so little liberal outrage over the ‘bubbling’ of fans by police, when it assaults both justice and freedom of movement?”

It’s a good question. Anyone calling themselves a liberal should be offended by the treatment of Hull fans and the use of “bubbling” in general. It goes against our core values and it should be something we are making a noise about.

I can’t help feeling that part of the problem is that there is the perception in society that these measures are necessary to prevent a return to “the bad old days” of 1980s hooliganism. The reality is football fans have moved on. It’s time the police and football clubs did so too. The unnecessary and illiberal powers they use to restrict the movement of fans and criminalise innocent people need to be removed.

I’d like to see the Liberal Democrats lead on this issue. Civil liberties, something which we hold so dear, shouldn’t be restricted to certain sections of society. I’m sure if this was done to any other group of people, Lib Dems would rightly be up in arms. Why should it be any different for people who are just trying to watch a game of football? As the FSF say, “watching football is not a crime”. Football fans should not be treated as criminals.

It’s time to burst the bubble, let’s be the party to do it.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Martin Lowe 18th Mar '13 - 1:26pm

    “Why is there so little liberal outrage over the ‘bubbling’ of fans by police, when it assaults both justice and freedom of movement?”

    Now I know about it I am outraged.

  • I have watched football live for at least 50 years. In that time (which included all of the worst excesses of football violence) I have seen/been uncommfortably close to/been involved in less than a dozen incidences of real ‘disorder’ requiring police intervention. In comparison, police heavy handedness has disrupted the enjoyment of 2 or 3 times as many games. Segregating fans is rarely necessary — and, even more rarey effective. It creates a ‘them and us’ hostility and is, largely, counterproductive. It is thought necessary in few other sports. I have pushed my Mum’s wheelchair through crowds of opposition (Liverpool) supporters with her (and I) cleary and proudly wearing the colours of our team — and have had help, assistance and friendly banter. I have travelled in a tram full of opposing (Werder Bremen) supporters — who were friendly and interested in my views on the game. Yes, there can be problems. I am sure there are flare ups at a tiddly-winks tornament. But treating fans as sub human only panders to the extremists. Indeed one of the incidents I was too close to for comfort came after a hard fought Spurs-Arsenal game. Crass policing resulted in Spurs and Arsenal fans (between whom there is very little love lost) joining together to resist the police who were overreacting to a tiny number of teenagers who were behaving borishly. And after one game at Norwich I had to use all my powers of persuasion with Plod to avoid being bundled onto the train to London — rather than walk peacefully the 100 yards to my front door.

  • Morwen Millson 18th Mar '13 - 1:40pm

    Apart from anything else, it massively disbenefits supporters who don’t live in Hull. My husband and my son (foolishly in my view) follow Wrexham from our home in Sussex . In the main this means that they only get to away matches, but if the police ‘bubbled’ Wrexham fans, they’d be stuffed! Unfair to fans.

  • It is wrong to let this kind of police intervention happen now, and it was wrong to let this happen to striking coal miners in the 1980’s.
    From the Guardian :
    ” Former miner Paul Winter was convicted of obstruction 28 years ago after police allegedly falsified evidence following his attempt to drive from the north-east into Nottinghamshire to bolster picket lines, at a time when secondary picketing was still legal. He says the consequent criminal record compounded his difficulties in seeking an alternative job. In his own case and in others like it, the reputation of characters with no history of criminality has been tarnished. ”
    And that misuse of police power, still rages on today :
    This is a prime example of why such things as ‘secret courts’ legislation, are truly dangerous, because legislation designed and approved to circumvent one problem, is ALWAYS !, used and abused, in ways never intended. MP’s that voted for secret courts, probably believe they have a handle on its use, until the one day it will prove to be a Pandora’s box, minus lid.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 18th Mar '13 - 1:56pm

    What legal right do the police have to impose this and what action could they take should someone purchase a ticket and a place on the bus but then decide to make their own way to the ground? In a democratic society, which ours is supposed to be, police actions such as this should be outlawed.

  • David Rogers 18th Mar '13 - 2:39pm

    I note that this match is against “lowly” Huddersfield, and despite this respectfully suggest that an automatic promotion spot is not guaranteed. Therefore it might prove worthwhile for Hull City fans to think ahead to the possibility of a play-off match in due course at Falmer, home of Brighton & Hove Albion – especially after their 3-0 trashing of Palace yesterday!
    There is no parking in the nearby village of Falmer (which lies within my county division), nor yet on the verges of the Highways Agency’s A27(T), which passes by. Indeed the club tries to maximise travel by public transport, including by use of the adjacent Falmer station (3 stops from Brighton mainline station, or 1 from Lewes), and frequent buses both from the city centre and other directions, run by the excellent Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company. There is also a well-developed network of coaches for home fans from a wide range of pick-up points across Sussex.

  • Obvious question, where are the “specific pick up points”?
    Answer: Originally, Hull’s stadium in Hull but the police have allowed fans travelling independently to use a “park-and-ride” service from Hartshead Moor services on the M62. So it seems that Hull supporters travelling by train would need to travel to Hull and then catch a coach to Huddersfield…

    I do question whether the police’s decision to limit hull fans to 1,700 seats when the away stand capacity is 4,000 (which we must assume the police okayed during planning) is unwarranted interference in the legitimate operation of a commercial business.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Mar '13 - 5:26pm

    I don’t see the big deal. You can get on the coach at Hartshead Moor, a 20-min drive from the football ground, if you’re not travelling from Hull. Hull City fans may have a good reputation but Huddersfield Town fans have had some recent form, which is probably why the police are being wary here.

    The Hull website invites fans to telephone the ticket office if they wish to discuss “special circumstances”, which hints that they may be prepared to make exceptions in some cases – have you tried asking them?

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Mar '13 - 6:27pm

    I don’t like the sound of “bubbling” and of course we should look into it, but let’s just be proportionate with the time we spend on it and think about crime prevention as well as civil liberties. We cannot take the civil liberty stance on every single issue, because otherwise we would never have invented prisons.

  • Kevin Maher 18th Mar '13 - 6:41pm

    This match is scheduled for 5.20 pm to allow Sky to broadcast it live. It is not unusual for the police to demand that key matches are re-scheduled, usually brought forward, to avoid potential tricky situations. But this would mean standing up to Sky, and the police would rather inconvenience the football supporters than stand up to Sky.

  • Tony Greaves 18th Mar '13 - 8:06pm

    “We cannot take the civil liberty stance on every single issue, because otherwise we would never have invented prisons.”

    This is a ridiculous comment, Since when did we believe that innocent people should be imprisoned, kettled or corralled. (Or bubbled).

    What interests me is what happens if I buy a ticket from Town, turn up, then put on a gold scarf or hat or whatever and show a degree of bias by my reaction to the match (when and what I applaud)? Will I get arrested and if so for what?

    All this kind arrogant nonsense reminds me of one reason why I spend my Saturday afternoons watching Non-league.

    Tony Greaves

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Mar '13 - 8:30pm

    Tony, it was not a ridiculous statement, every time a CCTV camera is erected it is a infringement on civil liberties but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them. I’m just encouraging balanced thinking.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Mar '13 - 8:35pm

    “What interests me is what happens if I buy a ticket from Town, turn up, then put on a gold scarf or hat or whatever and show a degree of bias by my reaction to the match (when and what I applaud)? Will I get arrested and if so for what?”

    What a ridiculous comment, since when did we believe that people should be arrested for clapping at a football game? 🙂

  • Graham, I believe the way it works is that fans won’t be given their actual match ticket till they’re on the bus. A voucher is issued which has to be exchanged, thus preventing anyone making their own way to the ground.

  • Stuart, while the inconvenience for travelling fans is an issue, it’s not really the point. Whether people have to make a 20 minute detour or a two hour one, the real problem is the restrictions in the first place.

    Huddersfield Town may have some “form” but why should Hull City fans be criminalised for it? I just can’t see the justification for imposing a bubble on the vast majority of innocent fans because of some perceived threat from a minority. I don’t think any of us would be happy to have our freedom of movement curtailed because of something someone else may or may not have done.

  • Eddie, what crime is being prevented here? There is no evidence to suggest that anything would happen if Hull City fans made their own way to the game. The police have arbitrarily classified the game as high risk and imposed completely disproportionate restrictions. In my opinion it’s a massive abuse of power which wouldn’t be tolerated if it was being used on anyone else accept football supporters.

  • Kevin, glad you raised that point. Think it makes the whole issue even more frustrating. I believe the game was originally scheduled for an early kick of (12.30 I think) but was moved at the request of Sky. The bubble restrictions only game into place because of the late kick off time. Fans’ civil liberties sacrificed for the sake of putting the match on telly.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Mar '13 - 9:32pm

    Hi Paul, I don’t know the details I’m just arguing that the principle behind segregating fans when there is a risk of danger. I’m new to the party and mainly being paranoid about our ability to prioritise on what concerns the electorate, after the secret courts fall out.

  • Hmmn, lots of comments here from people who have never had the misfortune to be travelling at the same time as a horde of rowdy sports fans or ‘revellers’ I think.

  • Stephen Donnelly 18th Mar '13 - 10:40pm

    Attempting to watch a football match should not be a criminal offence. The ‘bubble’ is just one of the ways that police are extending their powers to cover potential rather actual criminal acts.

    Even more worrying are the powers that the police have under Section 27 to move someone on from a specific area for 48 hours even though no crime has been committed. Most travelling football fans will have come across cases where this power has been abused.

    Liberals need always oppose such measure, whether or not their concerns are shared by the majority. But actually in this case, combined with the arguments for safe standing, it could be a vote winner.

  • As both a football fan and a Liberal, I find this outrageous and wrong. Football has its problems and I respect the police for the job they do, both in wider society and at the Football matches I attend, However, decisions like this and other heavy handed incidences are really undermining their overall good work. Many fans and clubs work extremely hard to help the police make football marches enjoyable and safe, but by criminalising football fans like this, they are not only making tenisons high, they are also driving a wadge between themselves and those who would otherwise wish to help them.

    I have been to matches against both Huddlerfield and Hull, and I have to say neither of these sets of fans were anything but good natured. However, even if I am wrong in my assessment, this idea is still not only illiberal, it is just a bad idea.

  • Dave, completely disagree that “there’s still enough violence caused by fans, and difficulty separating the troublemakers from the innocent, to justify restricting their freedom of movement for the protection of others”

    Looking at the 2011-2012 season, total attendance was in excess of 37 million people at regulated football matches – there were, in total, 273 arrests for violent disorder and 765 for public disorder (btw these stats take into account incidents happening up to 24 hrs before or after a match). Total arrests at football last season (for all offences) were 1 per 15,782 spectators (less than 0.01%)

    The police should be trying to separate the tiny, tiny number of troublemakers from the law abiding majority.

  • Stephen – spot on, couldn’t agree more!

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Mar '13 - 1:02am

    @Stephen “Liberals need always oppose such measure, whether or not their concerns are shared by the majority”. I agree that people should stick to their principles, even if they are in a minority, however any political party must also listen to the public, not out of convenience, but because it is the right thing to do.

    I happen to agree that this could also be a vote winner. Well spotted Paul.

  • I wonder what part the West Yorkshire PCC took in this decision and what pressue they are now exerting on the Chief Constable to take a more sensible approach?

    Whilst the (elected) PCC isn’t supposed to be involved in policing, their “police and crime plan” will have an effect on the way the police respond to events, as it does seem that the approach adopted by West Yorkshire Police will (potentially) involve the minimal numbers of officers and hence incur few additional costs – hence why I feel there may be a police resources management agenda behind it.

  • You need to be a Burnley FC supporter.
    We received 4000 tickets to an away end which holds 7.000 at Blackburn on the 17th March this year.

    2.600 tickets were sold to club members who held 3.500 points on the loyalty scheme. The rest were sold to individuals 1 per claret number whose details were held on the clubs data base.

    We cued up from 9am in the morning for a 12 mile trip when the kick off time was 12.30pm, we arrived back in Burnley at 4.30pm. my son & I had to go through hell on the coach which unfortunately contained groups intent on trying to break windows and use vile obscene chanting whilst children were on board with parents and pensioners.

    I will not be attending this game again and my reports to police officers about the conduct fell on deaf ears.

  • I dont agree with bubbling, but I resent having to pay so much tax money for hordes of cops to mull around football stadiums when there is plenty of actual crime they could be investigating. The powers that be should make clubs play behind closed doors more often when their supporters misbehave.

  • Alistair
    “The powers that be should make clubs play behind closed doors more often when their supporters misbehave.”

    Why are clubs responsible for the behaviour of their fans away from the ground (or even in the ground)? I can’t think of anything more illiberal than blaming an entirely innocent organisation for the behaviour of individuals (Oh wait, yes I can – treating all football fans as if they are potential criminals and restricting their civil liberties). What other proposals have you got? Perhaps Tesco should be banned from having customers inside their stores if someone commits a crime half an hour after visiting their supermarket?

  • I am a season ticket holder at a Championship Club and, as a member of the 92 Club have been to every league ground in England and Wales. I have attended hundreds of matches and I can honestly say that I have never witnessed anything other than the occasional spat except once when my partner and I were targetted by a group of discontented drunks on a train going home after a cancelled match. This was well handled by the train staff and the transport police at the station where these ‘fans’ were thrown off the train.
    I have however, felt intimidated many more times by the police at matches where their presence was heavy and I was clearly guilty unless proved innocent. I have pointed out that the number of middle-aged females accompanied by a man in his 80s arrested for football related violence is probably nil and letters written to the police after the event have elicited some extraordinary explanations for their behaviour.
    Football supporters are treated like a lesser species of human being on too many occasions.

  • Stuart Mitchell 19th Mar '13 - 5:23pm

    Paul Head: “Looking at the 2011-2012 season, total attendance was in excess of 37 million people at regulated football matches – there were, in total, 273 arrests for violent disorder and 765 for public disorder (btw these stats take into account incidents happening up to 24 hrs before or after a match).”

    These figures only prove that the police are doing a superb job of preventing trouble from taking place – and these “bubbles”, if used sparingly, are clearly an excellent tool for helping them to do that. We should be praising the police (and the vast majority of law-abiding fans) for making matches so much safer than they were in decades gone by, instead of complaining that ocasionally requiring fans to take official coaches to the ground amounts to “criminalisation” (how so?).

    Tony Greaves: “What interests me is what happens if I buy a ticket from Town, turn up, then put on a gold scarf or hat or whatever and show a degree of bias by my reaction to the match (when and what I applaud)? Will I get arrested and if so for what?”

    A friend of mine attended a match at a Premier League ground last year. He was supporting the away team, but was seated in a home section as a guest of a season ticket holder. When his team scored, he coulnd’t help but let out a cheer. Big mistake! He got thrown out of the ground – not by the police, but by the stewards, apparently for his “own safety”. As he left he was subjected to volleys of verbal abuse (of a foul nature) by many of the home fans, despite the fact that they were sitting with their young children – this being a “family” stand. Personally I prefer watching football on TV.

  • Paul Ankers 19th Mar '13 - 6:24pm

    I doubt it would develop to such devastating effect, but some of these tactics are being used are reminicent of the pre Hillsborough treatment of fans. The tactic should not be completely dismissed, there are games where there is a clear risk. As a resident of Manchester, I would consider bubbling Rangers fans in perpertuity, but as Liberal Democrats we should support a group being unfairly marginised.

  • Stuart – Luckily bubble matches are not widespread, so I don’t think it can be argued they play a significant part in delivering the encouraging figures I quoted.

    We should certainly praise the police forces that use sensible tactics, treat fans like human beings and help bring about safe and enjoyable match days – but those that resort to draconian methods do not deserve praise and they need to realise that it is not the 1980s any more.

    Bubbling is not just about “requiring fans to take official coaches to the ground”, it’s forcing them to take coaches and removing their right to free movement – it’s criminalisation because it is treating innocent people as if they are a threat to law and order – in this particular instance without any evidence whatsoever.

    Regarding your anecdote about your friend – i’m not sure what reaction you’d expect cheering the away team in the home team’s end…?

  • Stuart Mitchell, as regards your friend being ejected, it is a breach of ground regulations for away fans to be sat in the home seats. Just as big a breach as letting off flares. Are you complaining that the steward did his job?

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