Wednesday 21 September 2016

One Exile's view on the bubble

This Saturday, at 12.15pm, the Blues will face Wrexham in what is our seventh match against the Goats as Chester FC. Disappointingly, the fixture was again designated as a Category C match by Her Majesty’s Police, meaning Chester fans travelling to the Racecourse will have to endure the bubble for the fourth season in a row.

As published by the Chronicle, there are more police for this 90 minute match than there are for the whole of a three-day Chester Races programme in May. Indeed, there was one policeman for every 23 fans at the home derby in 2015.

So how has this happened?

In 2006, the government passed the Violent Crime Reduction Act. This set of laws gives police much more power to enact stricter discipline when it comes to particular football fans, and indeed particular football matches. The act meant fixtures could be classed as Category C, which is shorthand for games with a high perceived risk of violence. These games require fans to travel to games in a bubble. Not a fun kind of squirty bubble, but instead a bubble of armoured riot police. Since the act has been passed, there have been well upwards of 50 Category C matches in the UK. 

These games force fans onto coaches without toilet facilities and certainly without the freedom of movement one would usually expect on the way to a football match. The police then pat themselves on the back for spending a huge chunk of the taxpayers’ cash in cracking a nut with a sledgehammer and limiting disorder at the game, despite the fact that the risk of any misdemeanours was low in the first place. Bear in mind that the number of fans arrested in at the Racecourse in 2009, the last away fixture before the bubble, was a total of five.

The justification for these assertive measures is in the outmoded and yet continually recited idea that football fans represent some kind of underclass who cannot help but be destructive at games. The authorities continue to reference crowd trouble from 30 years ago, for example during Heysel, as vindication for their actions. It must be the case that Chester and Wrexham fans are seen as very much part of this misanthropic crowd.

There have been calls to have the bubble categorisation revoked from individuals both internal and external to the process. In 2014 Wrexham fan Andy Pierce eloquently tried in vain to get the decision on the bubble overturned, citing draconian measures and restrictions on an individual’s freedom of movement in his case. The Football Supporters Federation supported him and has been behind calls to stop the cross-border bubble. They were instrumental in lifting the Category C status from the Tyne-Wear derby in 2014.

The newly incumbent Cheshire Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), David Keane, promised to review the situation on the bubble this year. This has been echoed by his North Wales counterpart Arfon Jones. This is in refreshing contrast to previous PCC, the Conservative John Dwyer, who reiterated the antiquated view that football fans are primitive beings with no rational control over their behaviour when he insisted that "(Racegoers) don't cause trouble in the same way (as football fans) as they are not a gang. In football you have one gang against another."

So things may change, and yet they easily may not.

Reading the blog on here by a previous Exile, I am in awe of the effort that he went to in getting to the bubble match in 2013. I hope that any fan who goes to anywhere near this effort, as many will, are rewarded by yet another win over the Goats amidst scenes of jubilation.

Currently exiled in the capital, I will regrettably not be travelling to the derby game this season. I will not give myself undeserved political points and call this an official boycott, in the same way that this blog post is not a piece of overt propaganda. Instead it is a response of nurtured apathy to a situation which treats me, as a law abiding fan, as a petty criminal. One North London pub which is fortunate to have a BT Sport subscription will see me on Saturday morning instead.

Matt Butler