Just how restrictive is the law around football fans' travel? Even the most jaded football fan may be suprised, FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks tells us more about football fans, coach travel and the law...
Go directly to jail and don’t pass go! For the uninitiated this is a rough translation of the Traffic Commissioners’ Guidelines for football supporters travelling to and from matches by coach or vehicles carrying nine or more passengers (PSVs).
You may read them in full here, but briefly the guidelines require coach operators to inform the police when groups of fans book coaches, that coaches don’t stop within ten miles of the ‘venue’ either to or from the ‘event’ unless the police give prior agreement, arrival and departure times according to the kick-off time are specified and that fans may only stop for meals at venues where alcohol is available but only if that is sold ancillary to a substantial meal with prior agreement from by the police.
So, this effectively rules out a packet of crisps with your pint but requires you to have a two or three course meal instead.
While it is reasonable to assume that not every coach or minibus journey adheres to these guidelines, we’re hearing of an increasing number of examples where supporters are being asked to abide by them.
Towards the end of last season, the Punjabi Rams were shocked to be told that they could not attend a social event organised by the Punjabi Wolves (at some expense) rather had to return immediately back to Derby with WMP citing the Guidelines as a reason. as a reason.
This season a supporter contacted me for advice after being approached by his local police force’s Football Liaison Officer (FLO) and told he had to provide her with details of their travel plans for future away games.
This chap brought a small minibus and had, for years, used it only to transport his family (including young grand-daughter) and close friends to away games. While they chipped in for petrol and contributed towards insurance, he was not running the bus for any commercial gain, just to ensure easy transport and a good day and I had hoped to be able to tell him the Traffic Commissioner Guidelines weren’t applicable to him, but after taking professional advice that he was effectively a PSV Operator, I had to go back with the bad news.
Suffice to say he was bewildered and angry that he had to report his plans for a day out with family and friends that happened to encompass a football match had to be reported to his FLO.
I’ve also been contacted by a fan who organised a coach so he and his mates could have a good away day on Boxing Day. He was baffled to receive a call from his local FLO – presumably having been passed his details by the coach company – advising of the guidelines and requiring they adhere to them.
This effectively ruined all their plans. On the day of the match, they were amazed, but perhaps not overly surprised that their coach was met off the motorway by the police and escorted the ground.
Seeing my tweets on this, I was contacted by Andy, chair of Brighton Hove Albion’s North West Sussex Seagulls and coach organiser. While he can see the logic in having to arrive at some grounds where parking is difficult at a certain time, he doesn’t see the point when the grounds are out of town.
He’s sent the guidelines by the host police force for every away game they attend and says that he often feels pressured to drive directly to a ground when ideally he and his fellow fans – a mixture of the young and old, men and women, just ordinary law abiding fans – would often prefer to soak up the pre-match atmosphere and have some food away from the stadium.
Andy goes on to say that he’s not the only one to feel intimidated by the rules, the drivers themselves are concerned about being reported to their employer by the police if they break the guidelines and/or incurring possible fines.
And that’s the issue. The guidelines are just that and aren’t legally enforceable but operators are expected to comply with them on a voluntary basis but run the risk of the police reporting them to the Traffic Commissioner if they don’t. On top of this, drivers are required to, within reason, supervise fans and ensure they’re not breaking the law and drinking alcohol on the coach.
I asked Lochlinn Parker of ITN Solicitors for his views on these seeming restrictive and draconian guidelines, and this is what he had to say: “The two major issues with the way the guidelines work are the blanket approach to all fans and the significant ‘stick’ of a referral to the Commissioner for a breach, however technical.
“One size fits all rules are usually not found to be proportionate by the Courts unless there is a good reason.
“The argument to be had in the Courts is whether these powers are still, if they ever were, justified in respect of every fan going to every game.
“The police recognise that different games have different risk profiles in their own operations so it makes little sense to apply the traffic guidelines in anticipation of disorder at every game.
“The police also work on an often flawed basis of identifying ‘risk fans’ but the guidelines treat all fans as a risk. As football fans know, the Courts often favour a negative view of football but in the right case these guidelines should be challenged.”
Like Andy of the North West Sussex Seagulls, I can also see the point of the guidelines but only for logistical reasons ahead of semi-finals and finals played at Wembley when it is feasible that many fans around the country will converge on London in coaches.
It makes sense that they are organised. But otherwise? I think they are draconian, intrusive and appear to achieve little more than extra work for the already under pressure police and aggravation for supporters.
Ultimately, they are yet another example of how law abiding football fans are treated entirely differently from the rest society with very little scrutiny by the media or those who rightly champion civil liberties for all unless they’re fans of football.
I can only imagine the outcry if these so called guidelines were inflicted on anybody else attending a lawful activity – be it a stag weekend, day out at the coast, concert or cultural or religious event – but because it’s football the police quietly get on with ensuring fans go directly to a match without passing go.