Do they really have to interfere in Sunderland and Newcastle United’s affairs?

Newcastle United and Sunderland seemed to have put their rivalry aside for a moment in order to launch an astonishing attack on Northumbria Police, the force that oversees their Premier League derby encounters.

The force had previously insisted that they had no influence over kick off times for the Northeast derby, and in direct response to this claim the respective clubs released this joint statement: 

“Newcastle United and Sunderland are surprised and disappointed with the statement issued yesterday by Northumbria Police in which the force claims that the police cannot direct changes to kick-off times for the clubs’ fixtures, referring in ­particular to the derby games,” the statement read.

“Over a number of years both clubs have made repeated representations to Northumbria Police to try and reach agreement over kick-off times to enable a traditional 3pm kick-off, or later, to enable broadcasters to give the game consideration in the majority of their time slots for live coverage.

“Police forces up and down the country have been able to police high-profile derby matches for years, including most recently Cardiff v Swansea, at 4pm, Arsenal v Tottenham at 5.15pm, and Manchester City v Manchester United at 4pm.                                                 

“In recent years, Northumbria Police have rejected every request made by the clubs for later kick-off slots, including Saturday 5.30pm, Sunday 4pm and Monday 8pm.

“To issue a statement stating that they do not direct changes to kick-off times is false and absurd. 

“Newcastle and Sunderland will now inform the Premier League that all future fixtures between the clubs will be available for kick-off times to suit the clubs, the League and their broadcast partners, and will expect Northumbria Police to police these games.”

It seems a shame that we have to detract from what is one of the most hotly contested derbies in our game, but after the 111 arrests made following Sunderland’s 3-0 victory last term it would seem the furore is justified.

The statement released seems to some a little strange, and is better read as part as a more general breakdown in relations between the clubs and police in recent seasons. Both clubs cite TV coverage as a reason for pushing kick-offs back, but in reality the lunchtime slot that this tie usually occupies has more often than not seen the game televised anyway, for me this is a much more wide-reaching issue.

Whether fans like it or not the police have a responsibility to enforce the law and ensure the safety of supporters that go to games, they have a right to interfere. Undoubtedly policing could be improved; a degree of understanding and education is probably required to ensure that some of the unnecessarily heavy-handed treatment of supporters isn’t repeated.

For police though the game is a lot more than just turning up and keeping an eye out for troublemakers; the planning that goes in has to be thorough and be in tandem with the respective clubs especially during derbies. In my opinion the stance taken by Sunderland and Newcastle is not only churlish but also wholly irresponsible. To push back the kick off for a game that has too often boiled over into the stands is ridiculous, for some a 5:30pm kick-off would simply mean a few extra hours drinking before the big game and from a policing point of view this just isn’t safe.

Both clubs would argue that policing should take a backward seat when it comes to football, it is their right to decide when games are staged and it is the role of the police to manage them when the time comes. The majority of the time this is fine, because fortunately in our country, in the last few decades at least, we do not have a history of hooliganism and violence. Yet when it comes to a derby as fractious as that of the Tyne-Wear it is in the interests of everyone that the police are able to take a much more controlling role in the event.

Of course Northumbria Police can do a lot better, both clubs are frustrated that they have co-operated in the past only to still see tensions reach a head.

The situation clearly isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean that clubs should go it alone. A breakdown in relations between police and clubs just sets a worrying precedent for the future policing of football in this country.

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