Dialogue with Greater Manchester Police

Earlier this week a delegation from Spirit of Shankly met with Greater Manchester Police policing and stewarding of supporters at our forthcoming League Cup match at Old Trafford. We raised views that members had sent to us following our request last week.

The meeting was productive Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts of GMP's Trafford Division has sent us the following letter for us to circulate to members.

First of all can I thank you for taking the time to meet with me in advance of the game and for providing my update to the Liverpool supporters. In my experience situations can quickly escalate unnecessarily simply through misunderstandings on the part of the Police and supporters and so the more we can get a shared understanding beforehand of what the supporters want and how the police operation will run the better the chances of everything running smoothly. It is always one of the biggest fixtures in football but the game on Wednesday is one which will generate even more atmosphere than usual with Liverpool's start to the season and the larger allocation of tickets to away fans. If there are any particular queries from fans in the run up to the game I will do my best to answer them via Spirit of Shankly. For this game there is a dedicated team of officers led by a Sergeant (Ben), whose only job is to liaise and communicate with Liverpool supporters both before match day and as they arrive at the ground. This is for specific questions but also general advice on the day re what turnstiles to go to, ground regulations etc and to try and nip any issues in the bud. 
Bars and Facilities  / Drinking away from the Ground; I have had a pre-meeting with Manchester United to deal with a variety of issues but here are some of the key things we have discussed; away supporters will be able to get a (alcoholic) drink in the ground. All drinks will be decanted ie no bottles or cans and be limited to 2 per person per round. This will also apply to home fans in the East Stand. Manchester United will be dressing the away end in Liverpool colours and playing Liverpool matches on the TV's in the away ends. The club are keen to make it a welcoming environment for visitors which reflects, I think, the general pattern of the last couple of games at both Anfield and Old Trafford. I was keen for supporters to get a drink in the ground because there is a restriction on drinking on the street in Trafford and Manchester which we do, and will, rigorously enforce. This isn't me being difficult but when I arrived at Trafford four years ago home fans congregated in large groups, particularly around Sir Matt Busby Way, drinking from bottles and cans and it was a hostile atmosphere not just for visitors, but for home fans with families making their way to the ground. Since we enforced the regulations it has marked a real improvement and a decrease in anti-social behaviour for local residents. We will also be doing checks on coaches arriving at the ground to make sure they have complied with the appropriate legislation. There are no pubs near to the ground which admit away supporters. 
Flags and Banners; The general rule at Old Trafford is that flags and banners (no poles) are allowed as long as they are no more than 2 x 1.5 metres. At our pre-meeting with Spirit of Shankly we discussed the option to bring in bigger banners. United have agreed that some larger banners can be brought in by prior arrangement. The way this will work is that anyone wanting to bring a larger banner needs to let Spirit of Shankly know  so that they can give details to Ben, the liaison officer. We need to reassure United re what's on them, size etc. Ben will then meet the flag owners at a prearranged time / place so the flags/ banners can be taken into the ground just before / just after turnstiles open. 
Flares and Smoke Bombs; As in all grounds these are not allowed; it is a criminal offence to try and bring them into the ground or let them off on the terraces. I am very clear that we will arrest, prosecute and seek banning orders against anyone committing such an offence. Supporters will be searched on entering the ground and we will be using dogs to identify pyrotechnics and drugs. There will be a secure bin at E2 (Visitors) car park where supporters can bin such items if they have brought them. I would encourage you not to bring such items - they are dangerous to those around them ie your own supporters and the courts have been handing out some fairly significant sentences to those convicted of these offences
Trains; details of the train services are available from the operators but there will be a football special leaving Oxford Road at around 2315hrs - this can be held if there is extra time / penalties. There are other later trains but you should check the internet for them. At least we don't have to cater for Fergie Time this year. 
Ticket Allocation; The number of tickets made available to the away fans was the subject of discussion. To be candid, the last time Liverpool played at Old Trafford in the FA Cup with the increased ticket allocation we had some real issues, particularly around damage to the toilets in the away end and with hundreds of seats being ripped up. My preference, supported by United was that we wanted to give genuine away supporters as many tickets as possible because it makes the atmosphere, whilst trying to minimise the risk of disorder and problems. To achieve this Liverpool have got the normal away section and East Stand Upper but the club have netted some seats to try and reduce the opportunity for confrontation with home fans, the opportunity to cause damage and throw missiles.This means that Liverpool will have a large away following - I would ask that in return people respect the facilities in the ground and concentrate on what should be a great spectacle. When you get to the ground I think it will be evident that United are making visitors welcome. A final note re tickets -  the Police have nothing to do with prices! 
"Holdback" ; As a general rule I would rather not keep away fans in after the game- particularly at night when people have to get home. The balance is stopping disorder occurring when everyone tips out of the ground together. With the Manchester derby I changed things last year so the away fans could leave at the final whistle or remain in the stadium but it was there choice. It was helped by the away team winning so the majority of visitors stayed in, but there were isolated incidents of assaults. It is a balancing act and events in the game, late goals, the score, decisions, player behaviour are all unpredictable factors that can shift the mood and my decision mid match. With such a large following it is a distinct possibility that I will keep the away fans in, but if I do I will attempt to minimise the delay and officers and stewards will be briefed to allow people access to the toilets as necessary. 
Finally, can I wish you good luck for the competition and season; I hope those of you visiting Old Trafford for the game have a great experience and if you do have any issues to raise please feel free to let me know via Spirit of Shankly and I will do my best to reply. 
Mark Roberts
Chief Superintendent


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