A Day In The Life – Parading at Aston Police Station, Saturday March 31st 2012, Tour of Duty – 09:30 to 18:00
Alongside all of the regular constables who are assigned to work at the big football matches in the Midlands, a small team of specialist officers from the Football Unit attend the games to help ensure that everything runs smoothly. This shift I joined them for the Aston Villa v Chelsea game, kick off at 15:00.
The Football Unit work out of Aston Police Station so I head over there and am greeted by PC Bladen who was busily updating the Unit’s official twitter page giving fans directions about how best to get to the ground and which pubs to head to. We have a quick tour of the office and I am introduced to two Metropolitan Police officers who have traveled up with the Chelsea fans.
Each force operates a similar types of football units and the officers get to know each other as they travel around the country exchanging information on upcoming features such as who’s likely to attend and what the potential is for trouble.
Being police officers we’re always hungry so first things first we hop into the CCTV van and head into Erdington for one of the biggest breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Remember the Big Breakfast on TV? Well, it was a bigger breakfast than that. It was fantastic, although it did mean I wouldn’t have been able to chase anyone for the next hour or so!
Big breakfasts done we pile back into the van and head over the the city centre where officers from the British Transport Police have indicated that away fans are now beginning to arrive. The van is equipped with a variety of cameras and monitoring equipment, however it’s only used when needed and as there weren’t any issues remained switched off.
One of the main roles of the Football Unit is to spot and deter trouble early on. To this end the officers know the names and faces of the ringleaders and are able to advise the control room of any concerns.
The fans today were pretty much all in good spirits and after an hour or so checking the bars in the town centre, we moved back towards the Villa ground where the bulk of the fans were now heading. The turnstiles were open, the police in place and supporters were disembarking their coaches and wondering towards the ground chanting “Villa!” (mainly the Villa fans) and “Chelsea!” (mainly the Chelsea fans) as they did so.
Officers are positioned at the turnstiles on the lookout for anyone too drunk to enter (it’s against the law to try and enter a designated game whilst drunk) whilst the Football Unit head out on foot and mix in with the crowd.
Just after kickoff time we head into the ground too, entering via Villa Park’s own custody suite, and take our place in the corner of the ground between the home and away fans*. It’s at this point that I realise just how loud a bunch of loud Londoners can be – very loud indeed. They shout and scream and then Chelsea score which does nothing to clam them down whilst the Villa fans exchange ‘pleasantries’ with their visitors and sing songs about Torres not scoring.
Standing between the two groups, the Football Unit officers scan the crowds on the lookout for anyone getting a little too excited and are ready to act if necessary but don’t need to as the fans are too busy bouncing up and down to cause any real trouble.
After a half time tea we head back to our vantage point and watch the fans as they become more and more excited with Villa equalising, only for Ivanovic to think “I don’t think so” and score another goal to pull Chelsea into the lead again with only minutes to go to full time.
Four minutes extra time are added, Villa aren’t able to add any goals to their tally and so the lose with the final blow of the whistle. The Football Unit now moves back outside the game and continue to monitor the fans, escorting one large group of Chelsea fans down to the train station where they are whisked away into New Street.
With the match over and the fans slowly melting away, the job of the Football Unit is nearly done for another match day. We climb back into the CCTV van and check on a few of the pubs to find that they are nearly empty before heading back to the station for a debrief and a packed lunch.
The game has gone well (for the Football Unit and Chelsea at least) and in total I believe there was only one arrest which isn’t bad going considering the tens of thousands attending. I take off my stab vest and equipment belt, pocket a couple of KitKat Crunchies from the lunch box and head home looking forward to watching Match of the Day.
* By which I obviously mean football fans, not soap fans.
To see tweets from yesterday’s game, search the hashtag #footballunit, for more photos from the match please see the Facebook gallery and if you’re interested in the Aston Villa Football Unit you can follow them on Twitter. The other regional teams have accounts too, see here for a list.