The dimmest pupil in geography classes could probably tell you Southampton to Sunderland is a fair old slog, a trip to be planned with care as far in advance as possible to keep costs down and bosses happy.
The people who sit on the safety advisory group for Sunderland AFC – representatives from the club, Northumbria police, the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue, the North East Ambulance Service, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the local authority – are not dim.
They were or should have been fully aware of the implications of their announcement that Sunderland’s league cup game against the Saints would take place on October 30. It was known police had objected, because Newcastle were also drawn at home to play Man City on the same night. League cup games attract small crowds but there were concerns about policing rival groups of fans moving around in the region on the same evening, a few days after the derby.
It took a further 10 days for the date to be switched. SAFC now play Saints next Wednesday. No account whatever was taken of any travel plans, including time off booked at work and non-flexible transport or hotel bookings, already made in good faith by supporters of either side (Sunderland, of course, have many exiled fans who regularly make the long trip to the North East for games).
In an open letter to Northumbria police, Ian Todd – co-founder of the London and SE branch of the SAFCSA and a prominent figure in the Football Supporters’ Federation – sets out the case for the ordinary supporter.
He awaits with interest any reply, as does Salut! Sunderland which raised the issue with the force yesterday. Neither has so far received a response or, indeed, details of how Northumbria police proposes to compensate fans for any losses.
Dear Northumbria Police,
Through bitter experience of losing money on non-refundable hotel and travel bookings, football supporters are mostly savvy nowadays about not making arrangements too far in advance.
So when the draw for the 5th Round of the Capital One Cup scheduled both Newcastle and Sunderland at home, the fans of all four clubs must have been cautious about making their arrangements to attend.
There was the possibility that either game could be moved for live TV transmission and there were obviously policing issues concerned with the games both being immediately after the Sunderland-Newcastle Premier League game. All of these factors were known on 26th September.
It was therefore, I submit, reasonable to assume, when, 12 days later, Sunderland announced their game would take place on 30th October that all agencies involved within and outwith the Safety Advisory Group had been fully consulted and agreed this date.
On that basis I, and I’m sure many other remotely located Sunderland fans [Editor’s note – Ian lives in Middlesex], as well as the supporters of Southampton, made arrangements to attend the game.
Ten days later it was announced the date of the game had been changed, so making work release, travel and accommodation arrangements invalid. No factors had arisen during that 10-day period that were not fully known in the initial 12 day period so the question has to be asked, “Why?”.
I am advised by the Football League, who were so embarrassed by the change of plan that they phoned me personally to apologise and pre-warn me [Editor’s note – Ian sits on football’s Fixtures Working Party] that the change was at Northumbria Police’s request.
Such prevarication and then decision reversal is both irresponsible and inconsiderate to the many affected by it. Unfortunately, your force has previous in such situations – I refer you to my letter of 20th September 2011 which noted that it took from 17th June to 30th August to agree a date and kick-off time for the Sunderland-Norwich game on 18th September that year.
Clearly no lessons have been learned, no greater sympathy for travelling supporters engendered.
I should be grateful for a credible explanation of your inability to announce a binding and earlier decision concerning this Capital One Cup game and a firm assurance that every attempt will be made in future to avoid such discreditable public relations.
Ian D Todd
* It is worth adding that the Evening Chronicle reported on Oct 11 – a week after the original decision was reached to play the game on Oct 30 – that senior officers were unhappy with it.
The specific question Salut! Sunderland put to Northumbria police concerned the extent, if any, to which the avoidance of disruption to travelling supporters’ lives was taken into account.
9 thoughts on “The switched Southampton game. When fans come last”
The FSF reports that Ian Todd’s letter was sent to Northumbria Police’s HQ by post and to the press office via email, asking for comment. It was also copied to the office of the Northumbria Police & Crime Commissioner who said they had sent the email to the Northumbria Police legal team who would “address the issues raised”.
It took one week for the police to reply (Salut! Sunderland raised its questions on the morning of Wednesday Oct 30 and was promised a response by phone or email, neither of which has so far transpired). So no real obligation arises to publish the force’s belated reply to someone else, but here it is anyway; importantly, it fails completely to address the most serious criticism, which is that the change was made 10 days after the Safety Advisory Group, on which the force is represented, declared the matchdate as Oct 30 effectively giving supporters every reason to feel confident in making arrangements which are often binding:
“Assistant Chief Constable Greg Vant said: ‘We sympathise with the disruption caused to fans associated with the change to the scheduling of football fixtures.
“The police do not have the power to order clubs to change their scheduling. Our role is to identify any safety concerns, make representations to the football clubs and present our objections to Safety Advisory Groups. We did this and also wrote to the Football League outlining our concerns.
“The potential implications for public safety and disorder arising from both Newcastle and Sunderland playing at home on the same evening were obvious to all concerned. We were always of the view that this was an entirely avoidable risk and we raised our concerns and objections from the outset.
“This was clearly the responsible thing to do having listened to and considered the representations made, including a specific request from the Football League to make the change.”
ACC Vant makes it sound like a common-or-garden fixtures change decided with the normal period of notice, inconvenient as even that often is. The force is fully aware that the long delay before an about-turn is what makes this all the more reprehensible.
The police buck-passing may, for all we know, be justified. Which leaves open the question of who is going to compensate supporters for the out-of-pocket costs and annoyance this official dithering caused.
This a cut’n paste of a reply received from the FL by a Southampton fan who had made bookings for an away trip to the SOL as a half term treat for him and his son. The travel, and accommodation bookings were made in the ‘navel-gazing’ period but the response is all too familiar.
“Thank you for your email, your comments have been noted.
It is first worth stating that all Football League/Capital One Cup fixtures are subject to change. As a general aim, fixtures are rarely moved less than 28 days before a game is due to take place (certainly for broadcast reasons). However along with TV scheduling, games can be moved at any time due to various reasons including local authority/police/specific club requests.
On this occasion Northumbria Police contacted The Football League with recommendations to re-date the fixture. Following further Police and club discussions the game was subsequently re-scheduled for 6th Nov on public order grounds, following police advice. The League concurs with any decision made based on ensuring the safety of all spectators.
It is of course regrettable if you encounter any difficulty with travel or accommodation arrangements in relation to this fixture change and we do attempt to keep changes to a minimum throughout a season, however The League cannot overrule this request and as such had to accommodate these negotiations.
Thank you for contacting The Football League.”
Then, suddenly, it’s not the fault of NP. As received from NP…
“Thank you for contacting us.
We sympathise with the disruption caused to fans associated with the change to the scheduling of football fixtures.
The police do not have the power to order clubs to change their scheduling. Our role is to identify any safety concerns, make representations to the football clubs and present our objections to Safety Advisory Groups. We did this and also wrote to the Football League outlining our concerns.
The potential implications for public safety and disorder arising from both Newcastle and Sunderland playing at home on the same evening were obvious to all concerned. We were always of the view that this was an entirely avoidable risk and we raised our concerns and objections from the outset.
This was clearly the responsible thing to do having listened to and considered the representations made, including a specific request from The Football League to make the change.
Strategic Corporate Communications,
Northumbria Police & Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner ”
Make of that what you will. I call it making it up as you go along, but don’t forget to include a huge ‘f*ck them about’ factor.
What’s the point of a SAG?
Sorry it’s long-winded but this has pissed me off for years as a distant supporter.
Where did this appear, Terry? Of course, it doesn’t negate Ian Todd’s main point , which is that all the facts on which the about-turn was very belatedly made were known at the time SAG met and made what fans were entitled to believe was a final decision. I am not sure who is most to blame here but the end product is the same whoever the culprit: the fans suffer and are offered weasel words of comfort.
Found it: part of a thread at http://www.fansnetwork.co.uk/football/southampton/forum/
“Kind regards” ?
Anyone signing off a letter in this way, or allowing one to be signed off on their behalf, needs to go back to school. It’s indicative of the calibre of person dealing with fans, or in this case avoiding dealings with fans.
“Strategic corporate communications” my arse. What’s wrong with a name and someone standing up to be counted?
Even the horse had a name.
(6 thumbs up for Malcolm so I’ve taken his comments about pedantry to heart)
Don’t hold your breath, Ian. The FA aren’t bothered about the fans, and the Premier League are only interested in the money, so they’ll do whatever the TV people tell them.
Remember SAFC at Portsmouth a few years ago? The one that was moved from Saturday to Monday night as quite short notice. As the last away game of the season, many had planned the traditional weekend away several months before – those that could arrange the extra day off work had to stay an extra night, and arrive home about four on the Tuesday morning. I complained to Setanta (remember them?) the TV company in question, explaining that the only people watching the game on TV would be disaffected fans of the two teams involved who could no longer go to the game. No reply. Mind, it was quite satisfying to see the look of abject terror on the faces of the cameramen as we sang derisory songs about their employers.
An awful decision to wait so long before changing the date of this game.
But it’s merely a another example of the lack of respect or care that our football organisers show for their supporters -how about kick-off times, such as 5.30 on a Saturday evening for Sunderland away to Cardiff in December.
As a long-suffering supporter of almost fifty years, the expectation that I will simply turn up at any random peak viewing time chosen by our TV masters is unacceptable.
It’s obvious that we fans who actually pay to go to the games are not valued highly, may even be superfluous other than to create an ‘atmosphere’ for TV viewers.
All supporters have a limit to which their blind loyalty will not pass, and for myself and numerous others the lack of consideration currently being shown is too much.
And don’t get me started about the Quatar World Cup …
In my ever increasingly cynical dotage I have no faith whatsoever in those in authority taking the circumstances of ordinary people into account. It simply doesn’t cross their minds to consider the implications their decisions have on anyone other than themselves and those who work for their organisations. They are more concerned with budgets and making things easier for themselves.
As Ian says it’s not the decision that is the problem but the prevarication involved. If it has to take more than a couple of days to re-arrange these things then all the organisations involved need a kick up the backside.
Incidentally, whilst I hold Mr Todd, who I have bumped into in places as diverse as The Oval and Le Touquet, following Durham CCC and SAFC, what’s with this pre-warn business? Forewarn or simply warn please. As well as the increasing cynicism, increased pedantry is a side effect of ageing!
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