Hooligan fears for Bristol Rovers and City derby clash
POLICE fear there may be "significant public disorder" between fans at this summer's friendly football match between Bristol City and Bristol Rovers.
Louis Carey's testimonial match will go ahead at Ashton Gate on August 4 – but only after a row over the cost of policing the game has been settled with its organising committee.
Now fans will have to pay more at the turnstiles to meet costs which organisers say are in excess of what the clubs would pay for a regular league match.
Avon and Somerset police say the game's organising committee arranged the match without consulting them first and ignored pleas from both the force and the FA not to hold the friendly during the Olympics, which is already putting a strain on police resources as the force is required to send officers to bolster security.
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The testimonial to reward long-serving Bristol-born defender Mr Carey, 35, is the first time the two clubs have faced each other since 2007.
Police are expecting trouble and say their presence will have to be large to counteract any potential flashpoints between fans. Senior officers originally asked that the fixture be postponed and told organisers it would cost £108,000 to police.
David Fear, chairman of Mr Carey's benefit committee, claims it was only when he objected that the police agreed to compromise and drop the bill to the organisers drastically to £40,000. Given that the cost of stewarding the game will be more than £17,000, Mr Fear and his committee say they are now facing a total security bill of almost £70,000 when extra costs, including VAT, are added.
They say it is more than Bristol City paid to police any league fixture at Ashton Gate last season.
Rather than cancel the game, Mr Fear has decided to raise prices from £12 for adults, £10 for senior citizens and £8 for under-16s to £15, £12 and £10 respectively. He has raised his break-even attendance figure from 5,000 fans to 5,800.
Mr Fear told the Post of his frustration and anger at police costs he describes as "outrageous".
He said: "This is the first time in Bristol football history that the police have reacted in this manner and it is having a detrimental impact on our ability to stage a game that both clubs and the wider public desperately want to see go ahead.
"For the police to quote us £108,000 when Bristol City normally pay £22,000 to stage a high-risk category C game was unbelievable and outrageous. Even now they have reduced their demands, we are still forced to pass on some of the cost to the public, who have to pay more for tickets than they ought to for a friendly.
"We had budgeted for a police and stewarding bill of nearly £48,000, in line with what Bristol City pay for a category C game at Ashton Gate, but are now having to pay far more than that.
"I fully understand how stretched the police are, but Bristol City and Rovers and Louis Carey's benefit committee should not be placed in this situation. Both football clubs are keen to promote goodwill between the two sets of supporters and I have a commitment from both that they will do their utmost to promote this game as a family affair."
Chief Superintendent Andy Francis told the Post: "We have supported Bristol City and Bristol Rovers' friendly and testimonial matches for many years. We mitigate the cost we charge the clubs, as we recognise they could not afford to pay full cost recovery. The ongoing viability of the clubs is important to us, as it is to the local community. In this case full cost recovery would be nearly three times the amount we are proposing to charge."
Avon and Somerset Constabulary's communications department wrote to sporting organisations in the region asking them to avoid arranging high-profile fixtures during the Olympic Games.
In a letter addressed to City director Doug Harman, superintendent Caroline Peters wrote: "There are a number of reasons why pre-season matches are occasionally more problematic to police than league matches, but these will certainly be exacerbated this year with the huge staffing abstractions we are being asked to provide to the Olympic Games. During the build-up to the new season, we will have a variety of resources either wholly or partially unavailable to us, along with normal daily business to manage and a likely increased demand to police Olympic-related events within Avon and Somerset."
Mr Fear claims it is impossible to stage the fixture at any other time. He said: "It is not practical to arrange a testimonial game during the regular season and, therefore, we are forced to fit in with the pre-season programmes of both clubs.
"Ashton Gate is booked for a benefit game for Gerry Gow on July 28, we cannot stage a game on August 11 because of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and City have already stated their desire to stage a home friendly against Premier League opposition in midweek on August 7 or 8.
"Given that the Football League season kicks off on August 18, there was no alternative but to stage the testimonial game on August 4."
In a letter sent to Mr Fear on May 25, Chief Supt Francis outlined his objections to the City versus Rovers derby.
He wrote: "We are already receiving strong intelligence to indicate that this match will result in significant public disorder in Bristol and this will require me to dedicate substantial policing resources to manage the risk.
"In my view, this friendly match is being arranged without consideration for the impact upon the wider Bristol community and on the impact of policing resources despite our earlier request to avoid such games at this time."
Now in his 20th season at Bristol City, Mr Carey has made 625 appearances for the club and Mr Fear told the Post: "We look forward to proving that both sets of supporters can behave themselves and support a great local guy, someone all football fans can relate to as a shining example of a loyal servant who has represented his local club with distinction for two decades."
In a letter written to organisers on Wednesday, Avon and Somerset Constabulary communications department spokesman Alex Cohen told Mr Fear: "Unfortunately the Constabulary's decision holds firm and the proposed charge of £40,000 is considered to be extremely reasonable given the circumstances and cannot be reduced.
"I realise that this may not be good news for you and may jeopardise the holding of this fixture which is absolutely not our intention. However, you must also understand our responsibility as holders of the public purse, and the reduction on offer is already far greater than other clubs around the country experience week in week out for league fixtures."
Chief Supt Francis told the Post last night: "We wrote to both clubs at the beginning of April urging them not to arrange any high-risk friendly games pre-season, because of our commitment to supporting the Olympic Games. We are required to support this national landmark event while ensuring policing in our own communities continues as usual.
"An appeal was also issued nationally by the Football Association to all clubs in the country, asking them not to organise any high-risk fixtures during the Olympics.
"The testimonial committee ignored the advice of the FA and arranged the match and went public with their plans before consulting us."