Magazine article The Spectator

Set Our Footie Fans Free!

Magazine article The Spectator

Set Our Footie Fans Free!

Article excerpt

'Bubble matches' sound like something quaint. In fact,they're an outrage against civil liberties

Imagine you bought a ticket for the opera and then a copper told you how you may travel to the opera house. You absolutely may not drive there, he says, nor take public transport, nor walk. You must go on a licensed coach, crammed in with all the other opera-lovers, under the watchful eye of the boys in blue. Yes, that's right, the police will escort you to the opera, monitor you through the performance, and then escort you home. You got a problem with that?

I imagine you would. You might feel that your right to get from A to B however you please had been curtailed.

Now you know how football fans feel. Across Britain, footie supporters are being told that if they want to attend a game, they must submit to being bundled on to police-monitored coaches and ferried there like criminals. It's the crime against civil liberties no one wants to talk about.

They're called 'bubble matches', which makes them sound quaint. Believe me, they ain't. A bubble match occurs when the police, using opaque criteria, decide that a game is Category C -- meaning there's a high risk of violence. Any away fans who fancy attending a 'bubble match' are forbidden from making their own way. They must meet at a police-designated pick-up point; get on a specially licensed coach, with coppers on board to ensure they aren't drinking too much or in some other way getting geared up; and then after the game be dropped back to a police-designated spot near their hometowns.

For some bubble matches, away fans are not allowed actual tickets in advance - they're given vouchers, which they must exchange for tickets at a rendezvous point, usually a motorway service station in the armpit of nowhere. Why? To make doubly sure that only those who have agreed to be marched to the match by police gain entrance.

Not surprisingly, fans hate bubble matches. Supporters of Wrexham FC are fighting to reverse the police decision that their club's clash with Chester should be Category C. Wrexham fan Andy Pierce has started an online petition asking fans and others to 'stand up to these draconian measures' which place 'huge restrictions on an individual's freedom of movement'. At the time of writing only 502 people had signed. …

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