Browsing though Twitter last night, and I came across a couple of very disheartening tweets by our very own Dan Levene [@BluesChronicle]. He suggested that the West Yorkshire Police are considering marking the Leeds vs Chelsea fixture a ‘Bubble match’, which effectively means suspending the movements of the away fans – basically treating them like criminals.
Travelling fans must be transported on licensed coaches [official club transport] and under police escort, from a designated pick-up point to a designated drop-off point. No independent travel is allowed to the match by car, train, or any other means of transport. Fans must pick up their tickets on route, [usually just the pick up point] for example at a motorway service station at a halfway point. Their freedom of movement is effectively suspended until they return to the original departing point.
All the away fans must report to a particular designated departing point, set the by the away club [in this instance, Chelsea]. Even if you live a long distance from the point of departure.
I moved up north recently, and I'm currently based in Derby, which is closer to Leeds than West London, but if this is enforced, I’d have to travel down to London to board the Chelsea bus, travel back up north, past Derby and up to Leeds. After the game, I’d have to again travel past Derby down to London, get off the bus and make my way back up north to Derby, when it would be so much more convenient to just make the semi-short trek to Leeds directly from Derby.
There is no getting away from the fact that Chelsea and Leeds have a violent past stretching back more than 40 years and matches between these two clubs have had a few encounters since the bloody 70’s that have threatened to boil over off the pitch, but nothing of any significance has happened for over 20 years.
The animosity between the two sets of fans has never gone away though, so I completely understand the WYP wanting to take a cautious approach, but the Bubble Match approach is a complete overreaction.
I have never experienced the Bubble Match first hand, but in the past decade 48 bubble matches have taken place [none of which have involved Chelsea], but quite clearly, as outlined above, it causes a massive disruption to the away fans and usually puts them off going all together - at one of the particular Bubble Match, Bristol City took 200 fans to Swansea rather than the 2000 that would have otherwise made the trip, a 90% reduction in support for their team on the day.
Here’s a brief description of what the Millwall fans had to go through when they were scheduled to play away vs Leeds in 2010:
"For the Millwall match at Leeds on 3 December 2011, coaches had to leave the football ground in London at 5.30am, meeting the police at Woolley Edge Services on the M1 motorway, where pre-paid vouchers were exchanged for match tickets. This was the only place where it was possible to acquire a match ticket, and the early kick-off time of 12.30pm added inconvenience for the supporters."
It’s no secret that Bubble matches cause nothing but disruption and inconvenience. It’s the most extreme form of travel restrictions, punishing the normal, law-abiding citizens [the majority] in the fear of a few known criminals causing problems [the minority].
Of course, nobody wants to see innocent football fans get caught up in two sets rival thugs fighting, but punishing the majority in order to control the few is a flawed and ultimately wrong approach to take.