Special Constable Tracey Bateman volunteers in our Football Policing Unit as a Football Spotter and gives us an insight into a typical day on duty…
It is 9.30am on Saturday 24 October and I am on my way to Luton Police Station for a briefing. Luton Town FC have a game this afternoon against Plymouth Argyle and my role as a spotter is to keep the home and away supporters apart where possible, and to identify any high risk fans who might cause trouble and ruin the game for other football fans who have come along to enjoy the match.
Today I have been crewed with another spotter who is also a Special, Acting Sergeant Antony Harris, and just after 11am we are on our way to patrol the town centre on foot. There are three pubs in town which are designated for home fans; the Wheelwright Arms, the George II and the White House, which is where we stop first.
We have a chat with the door staff and wander through the pub to see who is in there. There are quite a few families enjoying their breakfast, along with around 80 Luton Town fans having a drink before the game.
As we leave we come across a group of Plymouth supporters who are looking for the English Rose – the pub designated for away fans. They had caught the 7am train from Plymouth and understandably five hours later they are desperate for a beer and the loo. Unfortunately they are going in completely the wrong direction, so we walk with them to the pub. This gives us a chance to chat to them; having a good rapport with the fans helps the day run smoothly. The lads are in good form and there is a mad dash as the landlord opens up at midday!
Next we make our way to the Bricklayers’ Arms which is already quite busy with a mixture of home and away fans. The bar staff tell us they are happy with the way things are going and I’m pleased to see it’s all very good natured. It’s time for us to have a look around the ‘home’ pubs now.
The Wheelwright has just 4 customers, with one being one of the old ‘high risk’ fans, and just round the corner the George II is also quiet with another high risk fan. We radio the team to update them.
We continue to patrol the pubs and the town centre. We hear over the radio that a large number of away supporters have gathered at one of the pubs, and the Landlady is not too keen. We make our way over to assist in escorting them to another pub. We explain to them that the new pub is only a short walk away, that there are lots of Plymouth fans already there and there will be a free coach laid on to take them on to the football ground.
There is lots of chat and friendly banter as we make our way en mass to the new location. Then we make a quick dash to grab some lunch while we have the chance, before we return to the pub to get the fans on to the coaches. Some are reluctant to leave so early, so one of the coaches leaves with a few empty seats. We start trying to persuade the fans – some of whom we met earlier – to get on to another coach leaving shortly. They agree and we join them on the coach. By the time we reach the Oak Road entrance we are chatting away like old friends.
The free coach travel has been introduced this season. It is funded by Bedfordshire Police and has helped enormously; we used to have to walk fans through a heavily populated area which often led to clashes either before or after the match.
As he gets off the coach, one of the guys thanks us for being so friendly. He says that the local force at another match he attended were really aggressive from the start. It’s nice to hear someone say that they appreciate what we do – we are not here to be aggressive or cause a problem in any way. We are just trying to make the day run smoothly for everyone.
At 3pm we enter the ground and stand behind the away fans. There are around 800 fans here today, all in good voice, and when Plymouth take the lead the noise is deafening! There is quiet for a few moments when Luton equalises but the roof nearly lifts off when Plymouth scores the winner deep into injury time.
Once we hear the final whistle, we get in place to safely escort the Plymouth fans to their coaches or back to the station. As we stand in Oak Road, the away coaches drive past with the fans waving madly and shouting goodbye to us.
I do think there is a misconception about football fans – generally there are only a few trouble makers and we tend to know who they are anyway. The majority of fans come along to support their club and have a great day out and we are here to make sure they can do that.
I don’t think that many people realise that you can do this kind of thing as a Special Constable. My favourite part of this role is the interaction we have with members of the public. It’s always a highlight when you have spent a few hours with a large group of football fans with no incidents and some great banter. I’m looking forward to the next match.