Fans’ group to work on creating better links between South Yorkshire Police and football supporters

A group of football fans who work with South Yorkshire Police will spend the summer drawing up plans to ensure better links and communication between supporters and officers.

Tuesday, 7th May 2019, 5:40 pm

South Yorkshire Police Football Supporters Independent Advisory Group formed earlier this year to help prevent disorder at games and ensure everyone is able to enjoy the sport.

Martin O’Hara, chairman of the group, said it had held four meetings, one of which was called urgently after disorder broke out at the Sheffield derby in March.

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Blades fans celebrate in the Clubhouse, London Road after watching Leeds draw with Villa on TV confirming Sheffield United's promotion to the Premier League. Picture: Steve Ellis

Footage filmed by a Star reporter appeared to show a police officer in riot gear repeatedly hitting a fan with a baton but Mr O’Hara, a Doncaster Rovers supporter, said he hoped the force had learned lessons from that night.

He said: “The work that came from the Sheffield derby is now, in effect, driving the whole group because that was South Yorkshire Police at its worse so we are taking it from there.

“On a matchday, at certain grounds, police form a large presence and what they do and say can make or break a supporter’s day and the biggest issue has been they don’t seem to speak to them before, during or after.

“That’s what we’ll be working on over the summer – we want to draw up a communication strategy so that supporters know what to expect.”

South Yorkshire Police officers on duty at the Sheffield derby in March. Picture: Dan Hayes / The Star

Mr O’Hara, who is also deputy chairman of the Football Supporters’ Federation, also said Sheffield United’s promotion to the Premier League will lead to larger numbers of away supporters visiting Bramall Lane and the city centre, which he said would need to be taken into account.

He added: “The main ethos that I always say is if you treat a football supporter like a human being, then they will act like a human being but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

“The priority at the minute is communication and we are going to work on a communication strategy and how we get information out there to supporters before games.

South Yorkshire Police officers on duty at the Sheffield derby in March. Picture: Dan Hayes / The Star

“If fans need to get to a game early or there are going to be street closures or they’re going to be kept in the ground after a game they just need to know.”

Mr O’Hara said the group was due to meet again when the 2019/20 football fixtures are announced in mid-June.

He added: “Everything we're trying to do is just about making sure everyone has a great time at football matches and nothing is done which affects that.”

Sheffield Wednesday fans at Hillsborough. Picture: Steve Ellis