Dons Trust Board member Tim Hillyer reports on his role as a member of the Rail Football Forum, which seeks to improve the experience of all football fans travelling to matches by rail.
An unexpected duty in my role on the National Council of the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) is to attend meetings of the Rail Football Forum as a supporter representative, together with officers from British Transport Police and their security counterparts from the various rail operators (known as TOCS – Train Operating Companies).
These meetings usually start with one of the police officers presenting recent data on football-related crime, including updated “league tables” highlighting clubs whose supporters have been involved in incidents, as well as analyses of hub stations where incidents have occurred, with a breakdown of different offences.
Happily, the number of offences is on a steady decline, and most of the so-called crimes that are reported might better be termed misdemeanours. Generally speaking, there is agreement that police planning and preparations have been effective, but the TOCs then make the point that more should be done to control football supporters, even when it comes to behaviour such as chanting and putting feet on seats.
My colleagues on the FSF and the Association of Provincial Football Supporters’ Clubs in London then respond with alternative solutions to stricter enforcement and what might be deemed oppressive surveillance and controls. Our contribution to arguments such as these is based on our understanding of the matchday routines of supporters.
For example, there are now very few “dry” (no alcohol allowed) trains for services that are going to be used by a significant number of travelling fans. Initially, the FSF went along with the policy of dry trains, publicising routes, dates and times of the affected services, but opposition eventually prevailed. Currently such measures are only applied at a few stations, based on various by-laws. York Station in particular is dry on Fridays and Saturdays – but mainly to restrict the activities of stag and hen parties!
On the FSF team we have our own “Man in Seat 61” – Rick Duniec from Leeds. Rick has an encyclopaedic knowledge of timetables, railway routes and rolling stock. Using this information, he is able to encourage the TOCs to run football specials and to timetable extra stops, such as at Wembley after cup finals and internationals.
There have been other significant victories. When Spurs had a midweek match at Norwich moved to a different date, we persuaded Greater Anglia to honour pre-purchased rail tickets for the original date. More of this flexibility to rebook without penalty is now on our agenda. The improved relationship with TOCs must also have contributed to Virgin West Coast sponsoring Carlisle United!
There are other discussions on the table. At Shrewsbury, the railway runs right alongside the New Meadow stadium, but the closest station is several miles away in the town centre. It would make perfect sense to open a railway halt next to the ground. Even more obvious is the ridiculous situation in Coventry where the new station next to the Ricoh is closed for several hours before and after matches because it is too small to cater for football crowds.