POLICE chiefs have today appealed to football fans to make the Steel City Derby a game to be proud of – and not a fixture marred by hooliganism.
Superintendent Simon Verrell, responsible for policing the game between Sheffield Wednesday and United on Sunday, February 26, said he wants the game to showcase the city but he has to be prepared for all eventualities – including the possibility of rival fans clashing.
He has a team of 350 officers assigned to the game, including ‘spotters’ who will patrol the streets looking for known thugs, staff in mobile CCTV vans monitoring the crowds looking for early signs of trouble and officers on horseback and with police dogs.
But Supt Verrell said he is hopeful the derby day fixture – the second of the season – will prove a policing success, with incidents associated with the derby game falling over recent years.
Crowd control barriers will be used outside Hillsborough Football Stadium for the second time, following a trial at Wednesday’s game with West Ham earlier in the season.
The seven-foot high steel barriers will be used to keep rival fans apart at a notorious clash point outside the West Stand on Leppings Lane, which will be used by around 5,000 away fans expected to attend the game.
Police want to keep them separated from Wednesday fans who will be leaving from the nearby North Stand at the end of the match.
South Yorkshire Police have traditionally used a line of bobbies or officers on horseback to keep rival fans apart on Leppings Lane but said the use of barriers frees up staff and reduces the risk of officers or members of the public getting injured in clashes.
Supt Verrell said: “This is always an emotive game and especially this season with the positions of the teams in the league, with them both vying for promotion.
“My message to the fans is to come and enjoy the game and to do so responsibly to keep everybody safe. We will be engaging with fans all day to make them aware of what we are doing and why.
“Fans need to get to the ground early and to be aware of where they are and what is happening around them because if we have concerns about a particular group and need to establish who is there well-meaning fans may end up getting caught up in it and end up late for the game.
“Police willl be using their powers to order fans away from the ground – even if they have a ticket – if they are causing alcohol-fuelled problems or we suspect they are likely to.”