THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Successful protests against police measures

icon freefans4 April ~ Momentarily, a Sky camera lingered on a banner fluttering atop of row of empty blue seats in the away end at Huddersfield Town's John Smith's Stadium on Saturday teatime. It read "We Are Not Criminals, We Are Free Fans". The commentary team muttered something about differences of opinion over travel restrictions and then quickly returned to describing the game between Town and Hull City. A couple of hours before, 200 or so supporters from both clubs marched through Huddersfield's main thoroughfares carrying the same banner.

Passers-by who didn't get one of the many Football Supporters' Federation fliers being handed out chose to ask police officers what the protest was about. "They're annoyed that Sky changed the kick-off time," was the answer they were given.

These two contrasting viewpoints epitomised the ever-ludicrous way that football fans are being used by varying public and private organisations. Sky's commentators blamed the travel restrictions (imposed by the police) while the police blamed the kick-off time (imposed by Sky). In the middle of all this nonsensical posturing was the stark fact that almost 4,000 fans were stopped from attending the game by a combination of the two.

Sky is seen at best as a necessary evil and many of those who whine about kick-off time changes are at least realistic enough to know that such an imposition is an indication their club is doing okay, as the TV want to cover them. Almost all will have a subscription and will watch a live game at some point over the footballing weekend. But the police are a different matter altogether and at the weekend, a group of supporters tried their damnedest to show West Yorkshire's notoriously killjoy force that their actions were unnecessary and embarrassing.

Huddersfield had been three times refused by the police to let Sky alter a kick-off for TV coverage by the time they, fearing a points deduction, essentially pleaded with the constabulary to let the Easter fixture against Hull go to a later start. The force, seeing their power ratio rise, insisted on restrictions on visiting fans; cutting the allocation to 1,500 and non-negotiably forcing every supporter on to "bubble" coaches from Hull.

Intervention from politicians and mass protest from the clubs and fans elicited a mild relaxation – 200 extra tickets and the bubble travel to set off instead from the M62 services close to the Huddersfield junction – but it was still deeply unsatisfactory. Much correspondence failed to bring about further alteration, so fans' groups called for a boycott and 1,300 tickets for the away end went unsold.

The protest generated publicity, though naturally no national newspaper cared to mention it, and while West Yorkshire Police had the gall afterwards to claim credit for the peacefulness of the day (the number of riot vans around the town was absolutely preposterous) it was the supporters who felt they had achieved something.

A sizeable number watched Hull win by a single goal in a Huddersfield town centre pub; point proved by the fans and three of them earned by their team. That in 2013 a police force can stop a Yorkshire derby with no violent history from being anything like the occasion it deserves to be remains greatly worrying. Now we wait to see if this action will encourage a shift in policy from this police force, and others, towards treating football supporters as human beings again. Matthew Rudd

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