Chester travel to Wrexham on Saturday 31st August and police have determined that this will be a “bubble” match. This means fans must travel on official club transport from a predetermined meeting point, no independent travel is allowed. While the FSF opposes bubble matches Caseworker Amanda Jacks says they're tough to stop...
Firstly, it is important to state that the FSF is opposed to bubble matches for the simple reason they curtail the movement of ordinary, decent fans and that they do not necessarily prevent disorder. Further, they do little to dilute matchday tensions and arguably may even enhance them. You can read more about bubble matches here.
We’ve been contacted by several Chester supporters unhappy that their away game to Wrexham has been designated a “bubble” match. This means that as a condition of buying a ticket they will have to travel to and from the game by coach. We are not aware of the full reasoning behind the decision but presume it is linked to the reports of violent disorder between the two sets of supporters.
Exact arrangements have not yet been released but it's likely that fans will have to go to their home ground to get coaches and then be dropped back off there post-game, regardless of where they live or what alternative arrangements they’ve made for the day.
We’ve consulted with solicitors on the legalities of such arrangements and, while they're far from convinced that bubbles are always lawful, they are difficult to challenge via the courts. You do not have a human right to travel unimpeded to a football match and it is important to consider that the judiciary will take into account that, effectively, you are buying a ticket for such a game on a voluntary basis.
In the recent Huddersfield Town v Hull City case there was no history of excessive and historical rivalry between the two teams and even when lawyers deemed the facts sufficient to challenge in the courts, via a Judicial Review, we were warned that it was still an uphill struggle.
Courts are inclined to be conservative and 'side' with authority in cases like this, in part because the police are considered the best placed to judge the risk of disorder. The police would no doubt put forward a strong case that these arrangements are necessary for the safety of supporters and members of the public and it would be very difficult to find a judge who wouldn't agree with that argument, no matter how strong the opposing views.
Lawyers we have spoken to have pointed out that the rivalry between the two teams is not confined to ‘lively banter’ and there is a long history of violence. They have expressed concern that, even though there hasn’t been trouble in recent years, it is unlikely that a case could be brought that would reach the legal standard required for a Judicial Review.
It should also be considered that the FSF cannot bring legal challenges directly; the client always needs to be somebody affected by whatever restrictions the authorities impose on a football match.
Experience has shown that it isn’t always easy to find a willing and/or suitable supporter (one that is entitled to legal aid is a near necessity) but this doesn’t mean we won’t look at each case on merit.
We hope that we won’t see such restrictions being imposed on supporters too often this season but if you do have concerns about police restrictions or general match day policing or stewarding please do contact us for free advice.