Millwall fans once again faced a massive restriction of liberty just to be able to watch their team play at Leeds
“No one likes us and we don’t care” say Millwall fans, but they do though care very much about the ‘voucher’ scheme imposed on them every time they visit Leeds United to the point that decreasing numbers of fans travel there each time they meet at Elland Road.
On February 14th this year, just 180 fans purchased tickets, or rather vouchers to be exchanged for tickets entitling them entry to the ground. For some non-attendees, it is fair to say that the price of a ticket (£36 for adults) was also a factor in choosing not to go, for others it was both. Every one of those fans was a member of the Official MFC Supporters Club – non-members are not entitled to buy away tickets.
In 2008/9 there was significant disorder when the two teams met each other in Leeds. Ever since then West Yorkshire Police (WYP) have insisted Millwall supporters travel to Woolley Edge service station and exchange a voucher for a ticket; after the exchange they are then free to travel of their own accord to the stadium. Strictly speaking, it is actually LUFC that enforce this by dint of selling tickets; purchase is conditional on adhering to the arrangements.
Despite vociferous criticism from supporters, MFC and more recently Ian Holloway there has been little, if any, attempt by WYP to take a fresh look at the arrangements with a view to establishing if they were still even necessary, let alone engage with MFC supporters themselves. Depressingly, WYP do not even appear to be aware that Millwall’s travelling fans have to be a member of the official supporters club.
In previous years, MFC supporters have been met by an extraordinary number of police at the service station with many complaining that the police were filming them for no apparent reason. This year however, just one serial, together with an Evidence Gathering Team and Police ‘spotters’ were deployed to ensure the voucher exchange passed off without incident – and no filming! Traffic problems may have been why only (approximately) 150 Millwall supporters arrived at the service station to collect their tickets. Overall there were 6 PSUs on duty for the fixture plus other resources. Each PSU comprises one Inspector, three Sergeants, three drivers and eighteen PCs making 150 officers on duty or one per every travelling fan.
As far as we are aware two Millwall fans were arrested at the match, but worryingly, eight Millwall supporters, including a young girl, who had travelled directly to Elland Road in the hope of buying tickets at the ground were issued with a Section 35 dispersal order (used when the police feel that removing those subjected to the order would reduce the likelihood of members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed or reducing the occurrence in the locality of crime or disorder) and escorted by police out of Leeds to ensure their compliance. They were not risk fans, just ordinary supporters making a stand against the restrictions. The use of the S35 order is a concern and if anybody knows the fans, please do encourage them to get in touch.
There is though a glimmer of hope that WYP are prepared to look again at these arrangements. As far as we aware there is a view among officers of all ranks that the match was over policed and with such a widespread boycott the arrangements leave LUFC out of pocket. The FSF will work with everyone to try to negotiate with supporters, clubs and police to try to develop possible alternatives to this deeply unpopular arrangements.
Let’s hope that progress can be made and that if the two clubs meet again next season Millwall fans are not subjected to these arrangements yet again. Nobody wins from them, they’re draconian, costly and unpopular and perhaps most importantly, are not imposed on the travelling fans by any other club/police force.