Cardiff fans were prevented from travelling to Wolves, with the full approval of the League. Nigel Harris reports

What links Graeme Souness and Cardiff City fans? Neither were able to get into Wolves during January. While Souness’s takeover bid failed, Bluebirds followers were banned by the whims of the West Midlands Police (WMP) and Wolves’ chief executive, Jez Moxey.

Few mourned former owner Sam Hammam when he left Cardiff in the autumn. However, even his critics cannot deny City are now established in the Championship and have worked tirelessly to address their long-standing hooligan problem. Arrest figures dropped by 63 per cent over the past five seasons under Hammam. Ninian Park’s 300,000 visitors last season produced just three arrests. Cardiff no longer top the banning-order league table.

Uniting the club, police and fans, Hammam made archaic Ninian Park one of the safer grounds to visit and addressed away-day headaches. Tickets are sold only to season-ticket holders or members and half travel by organised coaches. Cardiff take their own stewards and South Wales Police officers, well known to regular travellers, are approachable and highly regarded.

These groups meet regularly and also contact opposing clubs and forces. Matchday experiences vary but, overall, they involve meeting police for escort to a couple of patrolled pubs, on to the match and away afterwards. The tactics have earned great praise from enlightened police forces and pub landlords alike. Liverpool University’s Cliff Stott, a leading authority on football-related disorder, claims: “The club, the fans and South Wales Police have the framework for a fantastic national solution to crowd disorder.” The pity is that WMP and Moxey are yet to give it a go.

In September 2004, Cardiff won on their first visit to Molineux in 15 years. With the large police presence nowhere to be seen as the exit gates opened, away fans were ambushed while walking out. On the next visit, in March 2006, Cardiff’s support was chopped by a third to 1,500, while police numbers were doubled. There were more units and officers on duty, all fully clad in riot gear, than at a Millennium Stadium cup final.

Travelling fans were also forbidden to drink in Wolverhampton, but told bars would be open inside Molineux. It hardly mattered as coaches were forced to travel miles past the town, escorted back, held in the car park, searched at least twice and allowed entry only moments before kick-off. So half-time saw a cascade to the bars and refreshment kiosks. Twenty or so had been served when the shutters were ordered down. They opened by mistake, allegedly, although nobody had been told that drink would only be available pre-game. Minor trouble from a mere handful suddenly escalated as more than 100 baton-wielding riot officers stormed through a narrow crowded corridor. Some who managed to rush back to the stand to get out of the way were pursued and attacked. Officers were injured, as were 30 Cardiff fans. There were 17 Cardiff arrests, but the sole conviction was for a meat-pie thrower.

The misbehaviour was condemned by City and their supporters’ groups, but scores also vented their feelings about mistreatment in a barrage of complaints to WMP and Wolves. WMP’s promised investigation has failed to materialise. They have also refused to co-operate with the Football Association of Wales’s compulsory investigation, despite several requests and hearing dates. Cardiff City were exonerated.

Jez Moxey then took the crass decision to impose a blanket ban on Cardiff fans for the league match at Molineux on January 19. Football League chairman Brian Mawhinney endorsed this application without any consultation with Cardiff City. Subsequent appeals fell on deaf ears and Moxey instructed businessmen not to entertain Cardiff‑supporting colleagues in hospitality areas, while Wolves fans were threatened with life bans if they supplied tickets to the opposition. WMP entered into the spirit by moving kick-off to lunchtime and closing every pub until 4pm.

Three coachloads of Cardiff fans travelled for a breakfast-time protest at Wolverhampton Town Hall. The Football Supporters’ Federation provided unequivocal support, as did fans of many clubs, Wolves included. Plans to fly an airship over Molineux were shelved due to the weather but brought national publicity.

I doubt Moxey could explain what was achieved. With home support only, Wolves still lost. His manager criticised the “dead atmosphere”, revenue was vastly reduced with, by far, the lowest gate of the season. Wolves supporters were heard to chant “Moxey Out!”, mostly in protest at the decision to allocate Molineux’s home end to rivals West Brom for the following weekend’s FA Cup tie. Suspicions that a key motive for the Cardiff ban was avoiding police costs rebounded on Moxey, who publicly complained over WMP’s £11,000 bill – the force had insisted on having a presence inside the ground in case of problems.

Perhaps some good will come of it all. Local and national sympathies went with Cardiff fans, one of whom was missing his first Bluebirds match of any description for 20 years. Moxey later announced that Cardiff fans would be allowed back next season. WMP, meanwhile, spoke with supporters at the protest and promised to consult with the club and fan groups next time – something they had refused to do till now.

From WSC 241 March 2007. What was happening this month

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