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Five-minute feature: How football matches are policed

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: October 29, 2012

  • On alert: Football intelligence liaison officer PC Mark Smith at the Abbey Business Stadium

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THE spotlight of football hooliganism has been on Cheltenham in the past weeks following the jailing of the town's Aaron Cawley.

But Whaddon Road is one stadium that thug Cawley never managed to get into thanks to PC Mark Smith and his team.

Gloucestershire police's football intelligence liaison officer is charged with making sure games at the Abbey Business Stadium are trouble free.

Cawley, 21, from Hester's Way, was jailed for four months after running onto the pitch at a Leeds United game and assaulting Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland.

The 21-year-old has a history of football-related disorder.

When he was 16, he was banned from every ground in the country, but has breached the order at least twice.

PC Smith, a Cheltenham fan himself, said: "Aaron had tried to get here in the past, but we knew he was banned and he never got in.

"But it is harder for police at larger games.

"When you are looking for one particular person in 5,000, it can be difficult."

PC Smith has seen banning orders work positively in Cheltenham.

He said: "I think football fans have moved away from the bad old days and although it has not gone away, the banning orders do work. A few years ago we had small problems with a handful of people and we had more frequent issues.

"But proactive policing and with the support of the courts, we have managed to stamp it out.

"The ring leaders were subject to banning orders and that stopped it happening."

PC Mark Smith and his team work with the visiting team's police force.

In Saturday's case against Exeter City, he worked with officers from Devon and Cornwall police, both before, during and after the game, but also in advance to find out as much about the fans before the game.

He said: "They provide us with information about what is going to happen.

"How many supporters to expect, how they are believed to be travelling up, what time they will get there and anyone we need to be worried about.

"We have what we call 'risk supporters' who we believe could risk the safety of the sport ground by causing public disorder and sometimes fights.

"These people are identified and we find out as much information as possible."

In Saturday's game a group of around 50 to 60 'risk supporters' were known to be arriving from Exeter by train and police made sure they were there to meet them and show a presence.

They also have powers to make coach-loads of fans drinking turn back and leave the county.

He said: "The vast majority of people who come to football matches make no attempt to cause trouble. They are normal and sensible people.

"But the others need to be aware that we will deal with them.

"We generally have more problems with away fans than the home ones and I think that is because they have a day out mentality. Our job is difficult to quantify in the sense that if a game goes without any trouble then we have done our job properly."

PC Smith has been in charge of football game safety for 10 years.

It developed from him working on the Whaddon beat.

The majority of the work on match days is dealing with those who have had a few too many drinks before the game.

It is the stewards, and not the police, who decide who to let in the ground, but the police are there for support.

If the stewards decide there is no entry for a fan, but the individual won't leave, then the police will step in.

They will give a fan a warning before an arrest is made, as was the case with two men at Saturday's match.

The offending supporters will then be bailed, with the condition to not enter a ground, until the police can apply for a football banning order in the courts.

The Cheltenham Town fan said: "We are always supported through the courts and incidents here are sporadic.

"The best bit about the job is that no two games are the same and the worst part is having to work every Saturday.

"Fortunately my wife is in the police as well so understands."

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