It all started when the Archbishop of Canterbury came to town. At the official reception at the town hall the Luton Area Commander for Bedfordshire Police Chief Superintendent Martin Darlow said, " I want a word with you".
Now I thought this was something to do with a conversation I'd had with one of his team earlier that week about driving in the busless bus lane near my house …but no. Instead he invited me to join the police as they prepared for one of the high risk category football matches at Kenilworth Road. After consultation with football liaison officer Peter Palmer we decided to concentrate on the visit of Queen's Park Rangers on Saturday 11th November. This was designated a category C plus game.
I attended a briefing at Luton Police Station on the Thursday ahead of the game. Martin Darlow explained that it was Luton police's intention that football matches should not affect the people of Luton's ability to go about their everyday business. Therefore no premises would be closed as happens elsewhere (see Pearce Takes passim).
|Police deployed knife arches at the station.|
Peter Palmer then gave the intelligence report. The match has a history of trouble and Luton fans dislike QPR second only to Watford. Peter identified the risk groups. The main QPR troublemakers number around fifty and there is also a youth risk group. The poor run of results by both teams work in the police's favour as the match was not going to be a sell out. However the match was to be a high profile policing exercise. Horses were to brought in from Thames Valley. The QPR fans were largely travelling by train and British Transport Police were to deploy two knife arches at the station.
|Police horses at Luton Bus Station|
Match Commander Superintendent Andy Martin explained the policing on the day. It basically involves keeping the risk groups apart. The J Blockers drink in the White House. The QPR fans were given the George the Second as their pub. They would then be taken in a "bubble" to the ground and deposited in the Oak Rad End as far away from J Block as possible. The "bubble" is a method of moving people in a tightly contained group. Meanwhile a certain group of Luton fans including a banned group meet in High Town. Therefore High Town was to be Luton only.
There were three briefings on match day. First the Thursday team met again along with "spotters" from the Met. Then at eleven, after a two minute silence for Armistice Day, the team policing the town were briefed. The four horses were made ready and the vehicles containing the "serials" were deployed around the town.
There would then be a further briefing with Inspector Paul Harris's stadium team.
Off to the pub..
I decided to head off into town. At the railway station the Transport Police were doing steady business with the knife arches. Their remit is to keep the rail network safe so any potential knife carriers are searched. Drugs dogs were in evidence as drug dealing and use at football is rife. I decided to go to the Bricklayers Arms to sample the guest beers. Landlady Alison was on the door only admitting her regulars. The large pile of rolls on the counter indicated brisk business was expected. She was pleased with the way the matches are policed and the way in which she knows she can get a quick response in case of trouble. I then went to The George the Second. Here the QPR fans were drinking in this "Away Fans Only" pub. Some of the fans told me that they didn't enjoy their visits to Luton because they were told where to drink and were herded to the ground.
It seemed to me if you don't wear replica kit you are free to go wherever you like. And so I went to the Whitehouse where a friendly "Home Fans Only" policy was applied. It was a good atmosphere with families enjoying meals in the large pub.
|Police presence at the ground|
At about 2.15pm the "bubble" went from the George to the Oak Road End. It didn't quite go to plan as many QPR fans avoided the "bubble" by getting off at Parkway or drinking in St Albans or Harpenden then arriving late. There was a "sterile" area separating the two sets of fans.
During the game five Public Order Warnings were issued for intimidatory behaviour but the police pride themselves on the fact that there have been no fights in the ground for over two years. Policing in the ground is low key with no officers pitchside. One person was arrested for throwing something onto the pitch after another D'urso/ Rayner decision against Luton. He was taken to the police station and will be banned from football.
Missed the fireworks
After the match I joined Match Commander Andy Martin in the control room in the Oak Road End. This of course meant I missed the real fireworks in the first Mike Newell post match press conference I've ever missed. The verbal attack on Amy Rayner and Bill Tomlins has been well documented elsewhere on this site so needs no further comment here.
|Police vans wait to be deployed.|
The police were concentrating on getting QPR out of town as quickly as possible. A larger "bubble" was moving a little too quickly towards the station. Spotter One PC Palmer was with a group of Luton fans intent on hijacking the "bubble" from inside the Royal Hotel. They were given Public Order Warnings which meant they would be arrested if they left the hotel. By the time the 17:43 to Brighton left Luton, the "serials" were being stood down ready for another Luton Saturday night.
The match was overtaken by the furore surrounding Mike Newell's comments. However it was a largely uneventful day which is how it was supposed to be.
Picking up the bill
The sad thing about all this is the cost to the taxpayer in Bedfordshire. The football club picks up the bill for stadium policing but the rest is part of the police bill for the county. All this because nine thousand people want to watch football and about a hundred of them want to cause trouble.