West Midlands football arrests drop after new police approach

PC Tim Gant says he has always engaged with fans on matchdays when "spotting" for known hooligans

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The link between falling arrests and lower profile policing at football matches cannot be a coincidence.

That is the strong view of West Midlands Police's specialist football unit which was founded in 2009.

A crackdown on hooligans through better intelligence and lengthy banning orders for offenders has made life difficult for those intent on causing ugly scenes around the beautiful game.

So much so, that in England and Wales last season, just over half of matches were deemed such a low risk there was no need for a police presence at all.

Instead security was left in the capable hands of well trained match stewards.

Low key presence

Insp Howard Lewis-Jones says the intelligence gathered by his West Midlands team has successfully identified the core hooligan element in the region and, by working with other forces, has largely shut them out of the game.

He admitted it was time police attitudes changed towards the vast majority of law-abiding fans.

Insp Howard Lewis-Jones Insp Howard Lewis-Jones believes core hooligans have largely been banished from the game

"We recognised that our style of policing football matches had to change with the times," Insp Lewis-Jones said.

"Previously it was geared around thinking 'we're expecting trouble at the football therefore we need to have police resources there to deal with that'."

Dedicated officers are attached to the regions six biggest clubs - Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Coventry City, Walsall, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

PC Tim Gant goes to all of Birmingham's matches, "spotting" for known hooligans.

These days he spends much more time giving friendly advice to regular fans and in return he often gets useful information to feed back to his team.

"It's a tiny percentage of fans who cause trouble nowadays and we want to isolate those," Mr Gant said.

"It's the massive percentage of decent supporters who we want to engage with.

"They'll come up and tell us everything, which is what we want."

'Joking with fans'
Disorder between football fans West Midlands Police have had to deal with unruly crowds in the past

Only 25 officers were deployed to St Andrews for Birmingham City's Championship fixture against Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday. They were briefed to keep things low key and friendly.

Insp Lewis-Jones said he would have sent more than 100 officers to low-risk fixtures in previous years

The new rules of engagement were trialled last season and led to a 30% drop in the arrest rate, three times the national average.

In all, some 250 people were detained from a combined season's attendance of more than two million between the six clubs.

Fans and club officials seem to like the new approach.

Linda Goodwin, from the Birmingham City FC Supporters Club, has watched her beloved Blues for 40 years.

"We used to get herded around by the police, and felt we'd be in for it if we so much as stepped off the kerb getting to and from the ground.

"Things have become more relaxed though and the officers you meet are quite helpful and prepared to have a joke with you."

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