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Cod Almighty | Diary

Positive engagement

10 August 2017

Irregular Diary writes: So, the season opener we'd all been waiting for was announced as Chesterfield away. When I saw this I automatically and wrongly assumed it’d be moved to an earlier kick off. As the weeks went by and conversations were had I was relieved to see that we'd be given a crack at a 3pm kick off with a local-ish team. This was a positive after four games were moved before we'd finished reading the fixture list in full.

In the run up to the game Derbyshire Police issued a pre-match statement. Great I thought, until I read it, then it was How not to write a pre-match statement. It started so well in welcoming our huge and quite rightly respected away following, but then it fell off a cliff.

Yes, we knew it was all ticket (except it wasn’t because the away ticket office sold tickets on the day again, as at Cheltenham) but it's not illegal to travel without a ticket so referencing this was pointless. It then went on to ramp the fixture up by confirming when we last played and that anybody being naughty would be dealt with.

Now in this day and age do we really believe a full-on hooligan is going to read that and think Hang on a minute, the Old Bill will be on to us if we have a go so let's not bother? No of course not; all it serves to do is irritate the hell out of 99 per cent of the 2,600 who just wanted to go and back the boys, be it via the pub or with family.

I made my feelings clear as people know that I do. It could be so much better if you just speak to fans before doing this sort of thing. It isn't just Derbyshire though, there are other forces that are no different, and it is such a shame.
I’m a big believe in setting a scene. After all we all like to feel loved and wanted, don't we? Twitter plays a large part in this now with most forces using social media in all walks of policing. @SeasidersPolice are definitely one of the better ones along with @PNEPolice and @NYPYCFC. They are welcoming and engaging: what more can you ask than being told where the best kebab shop is in Blackpool?

As with all social media, we have to be mindful in what to tweet and what not to. It is unfortunate that after Saturday's game against Chesterfield a tweet went out from @SpireitesPolice claiming that three pubs on Sheffield Road would be closed after the game because of damage, and another two wouldn't open citing issues before the game.

Now I'm not a fool. I've been following Grimsby over land, sea and Yorkshire for 20 years and see some things that shouldn't happen in football. I’m not talking about the new rage of lobbing beer in the concourse which will lead to restrictions further down the line or the smoke bombs/pyros which are banned and you will get arrested for. I’m talking full on running battles down the street. But I saw none of this before the Chesterfield game, although admittedly after the game I went straight back to the car.

When tweets like the one @SpireitesPolice snet go out, people are quick to pipe up with "Same old football fans" and all the rest of it, normally followed up with "He did... she did... our mob is better than yours." So when I got back on Saturday evening I spent my time finding out from fans what they saw. I do not want this type of nonsense attached to my football club because it will be carried forward into the rest of the away games that we have. I drew a blank: everybody said that while some may have been loud it was all good natured.

I pondered overnight and checked the Chesterfield fans' message board next morning. The Grimsby thread had the usual bluster but the last couple of pages were opposition fans backing the notion that these pubs suffered no damage. I gave two of the three pubs a call and they all confirmed "Nope no damage." The third tweeted the same as well, one bar saying they were staying open.

The problem was that one tweet had now been picked up and used as part of a piece in the Derbyshire Times. I asked both the police and the newspaper to speak to the pubs. This wasn't about proving anybody wrong or getting an apology, but the need to recognise that 'tactics' need to change as these ones are counter-productive. A very basic follow up in the Derbyshire Times showed that the original tweet contained incorrect information.

It meant that all the positive engagement in town and around the ground was gone; the police outside the ground letting fans wear their hats for pictures was now pointless. Town fans will not associate this mistake with Derbyshire Police but with any police force.

How can anybody move forward? The way for me is positive engagement leading right up to the game. I’m well aware we have our fair share of people that go for a scrap, but what about the rest that would now be isolated because of the lack of good communication. We can't move away from the them against us scenario until there is even a small level of trust from both sides, It is a shame that the police haven’t looked to interact after the follow up report.

On a positive note however, @enable_research is a project looking to change the way football policing is done by using interaction as an approach to reduce risk. Chief Superintendent Owen West from West Yorkshire Police is heavily involved as is Amanda Jacks from FSF amongst others. The work they have carried out involved the opening game of the season between Bradford City and Blackpool, both known to have "risk" groups, being visibly policed by just eight officers. Now the police haven't gone mad; they had two Police Support Units made up of 50 officers on standby, but they were never used. There is a long way to go but interaction between both sides has to be far better than sometimes happens now, when you are tagged as a football fan.

As we look forward, it's great to see Coventry looking at bringing a healthy following. Let's get BP rocking and push for six from six.


Since this diary was published, Derbyshire police have offered a clarification stating that only one, unnamed pub suffered damage.