We’d heard a rumour just before Christmas that the derby game at St James’ Park on Buses1/Feb/14 would be declared a “bubble” trip by Northumbria Police i.e. only those Sunderland fans getting buses to the match would be issued with tickets for the game.

That has now been confirmed as true. See link here. 

Now, it ill befits this fanzine to stand up for Sunderland supporters but on this occasion we will explicitly state absolutely unambiguously that this decision is completely wrong. It is a grotesque inhibition of civil liberties, has ramifications for our own trips to Sunderland (okay, I know there’s a good chance they’ll be relegated this season but stay with me on this one) and furthermore it won’t work.

There is absolutely no way anyone can coral Sunderland fans attending the game back onto buses AFTER the match. I don’t need to remind you that all of the trouble (grossly exaggerated by the media) occurred AFTER the game finished last April. I am sure a sizeable proportion of Sunderland supporters will simply say no to getting back on the bus and decide the Metro / Train is easier to get back to where-ever it is they come from. I can’t say I’d blame any law-abiding Sunderland fan for standing up for the human rights they don’t hand in just because they have gone to a football match.

As well as the restrictions placed upon civil liberties, this is also wholly inconvenient for ordinary football supporters, many of whom live well away from Sunderland, where I expect the buses will leave from.

There is also the statement made by Sunderland AFC which is all spin and no substance. I am sure Sunderland fans intending to travel to St James’ Park who object to the “bubble” trip will be interested to know the identities of the “fans groups” who have been consulted as well as their explanations. Likewise, I’ll be interested in learning of the role (if any) provided by Newcastle United’s Supporters Liaison Officer and the Fans Forum in coming to a decision which I am going to guess the majority of away-day travellers at Sunderland as well as Newcastle United will strongly object to.

Of course, the excuse for this action will be it is in response to the scenes at the last derby at St James’ Park. I do not recall any other area of public life where the many are punished for the sins of the few such as represented by this draconian action. The disorder after last April’s game was caused by and large AFTER the game by people who had mostly NOT been to the match. The trouble was mostly also not caused by Sunderland fans travelling to and from the game. Yet it is long-standing Sunderland fans (and we’ll be next) who face being punished for idiots who do not attend matches.

This is the wrong action, targeting the wrong people and it will have the wrong outcome.

Then there is the role of Northumbria Police. Our Police Service always seem to struggle with policing this high profile fixture in a way that doesn’t appear to be the case in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow where local derby fixtures are equally, if not more volatile than our own little local difficulty.

I am interested in the role, if any played by Northumbria Police’s Commissioner, Vera Baird, who appears to have forgotten she is accountable to local people rather than her own officers.

So, what can be done?

Well, both sets of supporters have to come together to present a unified opposition to this worrying development and hopefully that is what will happen.