Policing football: Behind the scenes at Notts County v Mansfield Town
Main article content
Nottinghamshire Police has provided a behind the scenes look at the work that goes into policing a football match.
Over 16,000 fans packed into Meadow Lane to watch last Saturday’s lunchtime clash between Notts County and Mansfield Town.
With both sets of supporters coming from the same county and the match starting at 12.30pm, the fixture represented a unique test for the force.
In anticipation for this challenge, extensive plans were drawn up to police the event months earlier, with officers gathering hours before kick off to put them into action.
The first of two briefings for the 200 or so officers involved in the day were carried out at the force’s headquarters in Sherwood Lodge at 7am, before being repeated an hour later.
At the briefings, the police leads for the day, including bronze commander Inspector Craig Berry, ran officers in attendance through the plans for before, during and after the match.
Speaking after the briefings, Insp Berry said:
“The planning for a fixture like this starts months beforehand and sees us work closely with our partners, including the clubs themselves, fan groups, transport infrastructure, and licensed premises, so a lot goes into planning the policing operation around a big football match.
“Today represents a unique challenge because both clubs are Nottinghamshire-based, so a lot of the fans will be travelling from within the county and we expect to see both sets of supporters in the same pubs in the city centre and coming down to the ground itself.
“Because of that, having a presence in exactly the right locations at the right time is a challenge for us, but we need to be visible, we need to be able to engage with people and provide that reassurance so that they can enjoy the game safely.
“We’re there to keep people safe, not to ruin anyone’s fun, but we will look to control the behaviour of the small number of badly behaved fans. Our job is to police them robustly and we’ve got the powers and resources to do that properly and will move our staff to where the intelligence constantly being fed into us says the threat and risk is.”
Following the briefings, officers were deployed to different potential hotspot areas across Nottingham, including the train station and pubs across the city centre, with the expectation of both sets of fans mixing together.
Police would go on to issue dispersal orders on more than one occasion in the city centre ahead of kick off after receiving reports of antisocial behaviour, with officers breaking up any signs of trouble at an early stage without having to make any arrests.
While continuing to provide a visible presence across the centre and along the route towards Meadow Lane, dozens of officers then made their way to the stadium, where they were briefed again about their individual roles by Insp Berry.
At that point, the bronze commander made his way into the match control room inside the Haydn Green Family Stand to speak with club officials, while other officers, including dedicated football officer PC John Albanese, took their places at different spots inside and outside the ground – engaging with fans and members of the public alike ahead of kick off.
Throughout the match – which Mansfield Town went on to win 4-1 – officers provided a visible presence on the terraces, with dedicated ‘spotters’ being positioned at different parts of the ground to watch the crowd and spot any criminal behaviour as part of the policing operation.
This work would lead to a 27-year-old man being detained on suspicion of throwing a missile onto a football pitch after a flare was retrieved from the pitch while fans celebrated a goal, although this represented the only arrest made during the match.
As the game drew to a close, a large police presence started to form outside the ground on the corner of County Road, between The Kop and the Jimmy Sirrell stands, where the home and away fans were seated respectively, so as to prevent any disorder as supporters left the stadium.
Multiple officers, as well as the police dogs unit, positioned themselves at the pre-identified hotspot location as home and away supporters streamed out of the ground, with police then escorting fans along London Road towards the city centre without any issues.
A 40-year-old man would go on to be arrested in the city centre after the match and was later charged with failing to comply with a section 35 dispersal order, although that would represent the only other arrest from the day.
Insp Berry added:
“We know that the vast majority of football fans are decent, law-abiding people, who just want to enjoy the game and have a good day, and our job is to engage with them and be friendly and approachable so that they can be do that safely.
“I would like to think that people see all the yellow jackets on a match day and that helps provide them with reassurance that there’s a police presence in and around the ground that will deal with any incidents of trouble.
“Our police officers attend these matches to help, not hinder, and we’d always invite people to approach us on the day and talk to us.
“It is important to us that we have a good relationship with match going fans and they feel able to approach us, whether that be our dedicated football officers or other police in attendance.
“Everything we do as part of these operations is focused on public safety, so my message to anyone going to the football would be to enjoy the day, enjoy the game, be respectful of others in attendance, and approach our officers if you need us – we’re there to help.”