Monday, 4 February 2008

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

The kick-off time for the Cardiff City v Wolves game in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup has still not been set. All the other non-televised FA Cup ties on Saturday 16th February will kick-off at 3pm. There is a belief, in some quarters, that the police will have a say in the start time; a 1pm kick-off is expected, although not yet confirmed by Cardiff City FC.

And I'm pretty confident that the police will have their say as the potential for crowd trouble at this game, the potential for the game to attract the hooligan element, is high. It saddens me to feel obliged to mention the subject in this blog, but it is an issue that I have been unable to ignore since the draw was made.

There is a history between Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. There is a history between the "fans" from both clubs. Fighting between rival fans at games between the two teams, over the years, has not been uncommon. Events off the pitch came to a head in January last year when Wolves banned Cardiff City fans from attending a league game at Molineux. Cardiff City fans (i.e. the majority genuine support) felt aggrieved at that decision. There has been a call from some quarters that the Wolves fans should be banned from this cup game at Cardiff, but I don't believe FA rules will allow that.

There is also debate about the amount of tickets Wolves fans will be allocated for the game. FA Cup rules state that away teams must be offered 15% of the ground capacity, which would mean that Wolves will be offered 3000 tickets. If Wolves decide to accept this amount, there are big questions about which part of Ninian Park will be used to safely house the away contingent. There are concerns that the end that traditionally houses the home fans will be used for the away support instead, which may in turn reduce the ground's capacity.

But there is more. There is a belief that this will be a "bubble" game. And this is the bit that saddens me most. A bubble game is effectively a police measure to control away travelling support and comes in many guises. But the principles are always the same. A common example of a bubble game is this: away fans are only allowed to travel on designated club coaches. These coaches are met some distance away from the ground by police, normally at a motorway service station. Here, the police hand out tickets for the match in exchange for pre-paid vouchers. The coaches are then escorted straight to the away fans turnstiles at the ground. After the game, the away fans stay in the ground for a lengthy period (half an hour to an hour or even longer) and then are marched in a heavy police cordon back to the coaches. The coaches are then given a police escort out of the vicinity.

A huge police operation, no freedom for the fans, no independent travel allowed. Watching football in a police bubble.

I have attended games in a bubble before. It is not nice. A regularly used police control measure from the 1970s and 1980s, I was quite shocked to discover that this still happens nowadays at football matches in England. And it seems to happen often to Cardiff City fans who have become almost accustomed to bubble games on journeys outside of Wales.

So this, our FA Cup game in a couple of week’s time, could be a bubble game for Wolves fans. A far cry from the mixed terraces of Dartford, Bromley and Eastbourne Borough.

Very sad. Is this what some football fans still have to endure simply to watch ninety minutes of football? Is it really worth it?

But there is a more important question. This is a situation that the hooligan minority, still present at many clubs, are responsible for creating. Is this something that they are proud of?

Do they really care? I’m afraid that the answer is probably “no".

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