Blackpool Supporters' Liaison Officer column: Helping keep supporters safe at full-time
November didn’t quite match October in terms of success on the field for the Seasiders, but the fantastic level of support from fans at home and away has continued.
Many other clubs have commented in rather envious tones about the special atmosphere Blackpool supporters are generating this season. Long may that continue.
However, it was events after the games against Preston, Stoke and QPR at Bloomfield Road and then again at Birmingham on Saturday that have caused most concern for us all in recent weeks.
Blackpool is proud to call itself a family club, so when ordinary supporters – dads, mums, children, grandparents – said they felt unsettled or unsafe as they exited from the ground to make their way home because of the way the police were marshalling the flow of fans, then there was a problem to be sorted.
You’ve probably read elsewhere that a forum took place in mid-November attended by Lancashire Police, Blackpool FC and representatives from Blackpool fans’ groups, at which the police explained the background to decisions around policing at recent home games and everyone reviewed the concerns that had been raised following incidents after supporters had exited the stadium.
Lancashire Police explained why it is not lawful to plan to keep away fans inside the stadium after games on a routine basis – but is a measure that can be employed dynamically if there is a legitimate threat to public safety.
Ben Mansford, for Blackpool FC, reiterated that until parts of the stadium and its surrounds are redeveloped, there is no ideal exit plan that will satisfy all parties.
Lancashire Police’s Dave Hannan recapped on why various different exit strategies had been used in attempts to find the most practical, and gave reasons why some of the police tactics had encountered problems.
After a lively exchange of views, it was conceded that the routing of home and away supporters together out onto Bloomfield Road was not the best solution and that in future, away fans will exit the East Stand via the North East corner of the ground and not onto Bloomfield Road.
This exit strategy was communicated and tried out after the next home game against West Brom and appeared to work well, with none of the confusion or incidents that had so worried fans in previous weeks.
Therefore, it will be the standard exit strategy in future, a constructive solution to the issue, and it is hoped that is one problem we can all put behind us now.
Lancashire Police, for their part, said there will be greater consistency in planning and staffing of matchday operations in future.
The briefing to their on-the-ground personnel will be to provide a firm, friendly, approachable presence as this is what the vast majority of fans expect and deserve.
With common sense and goodwill, everyone should be able to feel safe at football matches these days.
The club, for its part, would like to get to the point where it is no longer necessary to have blocks of empty seats inside Bloomfield Road.
A follow-up ‘fans forum’ will be held in a few weeks’ time to assess the success of the changes and to see what modifications, if any, are required.
One change that I am proposing to the board is that we consider expanding the Supporters’ Liaison Officer team for matchdays, for home and away games, to make ourselves a more visible presence at games and easy to contact if issues arise.
It is all subject to agreement, but if you’ve any thoughts or suggestions on this topic, please get in touch.
Likewise, if you wish to contact me for any reason to do with supporter issues or have queries or suggestions, feel free to do so by email: [email protected] or message me: @BFCSLO on Facebook or Twitter – it’s what I’m here for.
Finally, stay safe. Best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas, and let’s hope for a few more points in the bag before we say goodbye to 2021, starting with tomorrow’s game at home to Luton. Be loud, proud but legal, Seasiders fans. UTMP!
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