Following your conversation with Christine Seddon on 7 April, we at BST undertook to collate intelligence and other feedback from Blackpool fans about the policing of the game between Preston and Blackpool on 5 April.
This note concentrates mainly on the actual events on the night, albeit with some broader, contextual points which we have included at the end and which BST will follow up separately.
Evidence, and where it came from
We advertised for responses on various social media platforms, and via a newsletter to our Members. At the time of writing, we have had dozens of responses, which is something of a commentary in itself.
Those responses made lots of separate points of detail. But the overriding message was that many Blackpool supporters shared experiences that should have no place in football, and were extremely angry with either Lancashire Police, or Preston North End, or both.
There were a number of serious areas of concern, as follows :
Why were Blackpool fans detained in the ground at full time?
Earlier in the season, at meetings following incidents at Bloomfield Road, we were repeatedly told by Lancashire Police that detaining away fans after the game was not an option, because of Human Rights considerations.
It was something of a surprise then, to be told that in this instance fans would be detained - and that Human Rights considerations could be overridden at local discretion in certain circumstances.
We understand that Lancashire Police are trying to take a nuanced position on this issue, but the fine distinctions are lost upon fans who only see that they appear to be being treated differently from everyone else. Whether it is “nuanced” or not, the policy is very unclear, and the way in which Lancashire Police are communicating it falls far short of the standards which we expect.
A small number of our fans reported that some of the officers on the ground seemed unsure of what the overall strategy was in any case. They were also unsure of what to do as events unfolded - and it became clear that the planned approach was not working.
Why were Blackpool fans then kettled outside the ground for a lengthy period?
Blackpool fans would probably have accepted a short delay inside the ground if they had then been allowed to leave the ground quickly, and unmolested.
However, the accounts we have heard from fan after fan show that this is NOT what happened. While they were in the ground waiting to leave, little or no attempt seemed to be made to disperse Preston fans from the adjoining stand or from the concourse area at the far end of the Kop.
This unpleasant experience was made worse when evacuation of the stand began, and fans found themselves kettled in a small area outside the ground. This is perhaps the part of the night that has caused most concern and anger ; fans have observed that :
• the area in question was unlit, and forced fans into close contact with one another - an experience not helped for those at the rear who were also aggressively herded along by mounted police.
• moving away from the stadium was made more difficult by the fact that key exit areas had been blocked by police vehicles, forcing large numbers of people who had no clear idea of where they were supposed to go down narrow channels. Various people have made the point that it would have taken only one person to stumble and fall to create a potential tragedy ; many of them wondered why, thirty three years after Hillsborough, Lancashire Police were intentionally creating a situation such as this
• the delay in leaving had NOT led to dispersal of home fans ; in fact, there were significant numbers who had remained either in the ground or close by who were at this point allowed to pelt Blackpool supporters with a variety of missiles, including batteries, bricks and wheelie bins, causing injury to a small number of fans
In the pre-brief before the match, Lancashire Police made great play about their plan to create sterile areas around the away turnstiles before the game. Our fans are therefore somewhat perplexed about why no thought seems to have gone into achieving a similar situation AFTER the game, and why, instead of being protected, they were actually forced into a situation whereby they were easy targets.
Why were Preston fans allowed to buy tickets for the Kop ?
In our experience, creating sterile or safe areas for visiting fans is far easier to achieve if they are in a stand of their own. This was not the case at this match.
Before the game, in the pre-brief, Blackpool fans expressed concerns about this and the potential for missiles being thrown back and forth. These were dismissed by the police officer in charge of match planning, who told us that he had attempted to throw a coin from one section to the other, and could not do so.
After the pre-briefing, Blackpool FC asked for - and received - extra tickets that meant both sets of supporters were in closer proximity than originally planned.
However, the implications of this do not seem to have been thought through, and as a result many fans had to endure a steady barrage of missiles through the game, You will be aware that one small child sustained a head injury when he was struck by what appeared to be a battery refill.
We would like a specific explanation of ticket selling policy from Preston. There were close to 5,0000 empty seats in the ground on the night, so those Preston fans who were on the Kop could easily have been accommodated elsewhere. The club and police must have known that selling tickets to home fans in that area would potentially cause a flashpoint - but still created the risk anyway. Why?
The behaviour of some police officers left a good deal to be desired
A constant message from our fans was that a number of police officers deployed on the night were extremely aggressive towards visiting supporters. The most shocking example of this came when the small child referred to above was struck by a missile and was bleeding copiously from his head. One of the fans who attempted to get the boy to a place where he could get medical help was himself assaulted by a police officer when doing so. Several fans witnessed this, and took a note of the officer’s number, which will be shared with you separately.
The second major area of concern was the conduct of mounted police in the kettling area after the game. A number of fans told us that they deliberately rode their horses into the crowd to move it along, putting both fans and police officers on foot at risk. No senior officer was on hand to explain why this was thought necessary.
Some general points
There has always been a certain amount of bad blood between the fans of the two clubs, and in our opinion this has built up steadily throughout this season. It was not helped by the decision of Blackpool FC to sell just 2,200 tickets to Preston fans for the reverse fixture in October. However, the configuration of Bloomfield Road made it difficult for them to do otherwise, given the amount of demand for tickets from Blackpool supporters.
There were no such mitigating factors on Tuesday, and a number of fans have said to us that they thought that the decision by PNE to sell just 2,200 away tickets in return was either a childish piece of tit for tat, or one motivated by spite. Those same fans also pointed out that had Preston given over the whole Kop to Blackpool fans they would have had earned more revenue, and the Police would have had a more easily managed challenge around crowd segregation.
Whatever the motivating factors, the reality is that a poor relationship between the fans of the two clubs has now been made worse. We recommend that the planning for next season’s games needs to look at both games together as a whole, and the expectations of supporters managed far better than has been the case this year. If there are good operational reasons why the two clubs need to sell different numbers of away tickets - and we think there probably are - this needs be be made very clear, well in advance.
The level of anger about this game is one that we have not seen in our supporters for some time, and much of their ire is directed squarely towards the Police. We are afraid to say that the impression many of them have of Lancashire Police is that of an organisation that is :
• inconsistent in its approach
• inefficient in the way in which it deploys resources
• poor at planning and
• unable to react effectively when plans go wrong
The events of 5 April have strengthened those perceptions. We think that we speak for all our supporters when we say that we value the work of police officers on the ground on occasions like this. They sometimes have to put their own safety at risk on our behalf.. We are also grateful to you for your own personal efforts to communicate clearly when planning for these very difficult challenges.
However, the criticisms set out above - which we completely endorse - are about senior officer leadership, planning, and resource management. We hope that at the de-briefing meeting the senior officer in charge will make himself available to address the concerns we have raised.
Finally, in this context, the self-congratulatory tone of statements issued by Lancashire Police - such as that issued on 8 April - merely add fuel to the fire. In our opinion it was ill-judged, and makes the job of organisations such as our infinitely harder. It makes YOUR job at the working level much more difficult too.
We hope that this long note conveys the deep anger of our supporters and our dissatisfaction as a Trust. We pride ourselves on working as collaboratively as we can with all our partners, and this includes Lancashire Police. But in our opinion your operation on 5 April will have lost you a great deal of trust - and it will take a lot of hard work to win it back.
As a courtesy, you should know that we will be sharing all this note with the Football Supporters Association, with local Members of Parliament and with Blackpool supporter groups, and with others.