City vs Rovers should not become a regular fixture – police commander
THE officer in charge of policing the first football match between Bristol City and Bristol Rovers for five years says it must not become a regular fixture.
The two sides faced each other at Ashton Gate on Saturday for Louis Carey's testimonial game.
Commander in charge of policing the match, chief superintendent Andy Francis, said there were five arrests made ahead of the game and four people ejected from the ground by stewards as a result of disorder.
But he said the reason hooligans did not cause more trouble was a result of the policing – which cost a total of £112,000.
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Mr Francis said groups of hooligans had attempted to cause trouble from 10am on Saturday and there had been further trouble hours after the final whistle.
He said about 100 of the potential Bristol Rovers troublemakers left the stadium in the first half of the match, which ended 3-0 to Bristol City. There was a heavy police presence around Ashton Gate and the city centre prior to the game, preventing clashes between troublemakers.
Riot vans were lined up along Ashton Road as the crowd filed into the stadium – police officers lining the stretch by Greville Smyth Park.
Immediately before the 1pm kick-off Post reporters witnessed a flash point with the crowds chanting, pointing and shouting as they surged towards each other. But before it flared into violence the waiting police calmed the situation and the fans made their way into the stadium.
Mr Francis said: "The policing, in terms of numbers, was entirely correct because of the threat. We had some disorder before the match with groups running around trying to get one another. We had to deploy quite a large number of officers to prevent it getting out of hand. There was disorder in the ground before the game started when the Rovers risk group arrived and we had to sort that out.
"Post match there were attempts at disorder, only stopped because we intervened to keep the groups apart.
"It did cause problems for the local community with traffic jams and buses delayed."
As previously reported in the Post Avon and Somerset Police had warned the testimonial committee against the match at a time when so many of the force's officers were in London supporting the Olympics.
Mr Francis said: "The organisers – not Bristol City but the testimonial committee – were quite naive to believe a game between City and Rovers was a peaceful family event. Officers had to be deployed on the streets of Bristol who could have been a lot better used policing the streets of Bristol at a time when we and the FA advised against it. The testimonial committee has already made it clear they wanted this to be the first of many testimonial games with a friendly, happy atmosphere.
"If we could keep the risk groups from the game that would be fantastic but we can't and from a policing point of view we would not support a regular City and Rovers match."
Mr Francis said after the match there were incidents where risk groups of Rovers fans had to be escorted away from parts of the city where Robins fans were drinking to prevent trouble. He said that officers were kept around Bristol into the evening because there were still "significant groups of risk out in public wanting to get involved".
Mr Francis said that the testimonial committee had paid £40,000 towards the cost of policing on Saturday but that it had cost £112,000 in total for the necessary resources.
"We spent about £70,000 of public money to police this event and the vast majority of people behaved themselves but there were risk groups."
Chairman of the Louis Carey testimonial committee, David Fear, told the Post he had not been made aware of the police's initial concerns about the match. "I think it is unfair to say we are naive," he said.
"There was a 9,000 crowd there and only five arrests, which must be absolutely miniscule. I will give Avon and Somerset credit, the match was policed extremely well."