On Thursday the 14th August the latest members meeting took place at the Centenary Club.
Special guests were representatives of North Wales Police namely Superintendent Rob Kirman, Inspector Paul Wycherley and the recently appointed police liaison officer PC Heidi Goldsack. Also on the top table were Peter Jones (Chair WST and WFC Governing Body), Mark Williams (Board Finance Director), Don Bircham (Club Chief Executive) and Geraint Parry (Club Football Secretary). Martin Bradley the safety officer for Glyndwr University sent his apologies.
Other Board members were also in attendance.
The main topic of discussion was the announcement of the safe travel arrangements (better known as the “bubble”) for the away match at Chester on 22nd September.
Mark explained that the arrangements were the joint decision of both clubs and police forces and would be repeated for the home fixture in March. The arrangements would replicate last season’s but lessons had been learned, for example, about the standard of coaches, pick up points and ticket arrangements -which would be reflected when the detailed arrangements for September are announced. The Club will receive an allocation of 1200 tickets. Mark said the club took advice on a number of topics and for crowd safety/public order matters it received advice from the police. This was communicated to the safety advisory group, chaired by the local authority, who issued the safety certificate.
Supt. Kirman then explained why the police considered it necessary to advise that the safe travel arrangements were followed again this season. He said the decision was a collective one and no organisation had dictated to another. The Police advice was provided to ensure the safety of everyone. Last season there were no arrests and no injuries outside the ground- the first for a derby match for years. There was positive feedback. Things can be improved. There would have been disorder last year. The “risk element” of both clubs had intended to cause trouble. The police have a responsibility to the wider community to prevent it.
Insp. Wycherley explained his responsibility to ensure that people in the town centre could go about their normal business on match days. The feedback from non-fans was that they hadn’t realised that a match was on due to the safe travel arrangements.
There then followed a full and frank discussion during which a number of members made their opposition to the bubble clear.
A member questioned the policing of the Legia Warsaw match and how Polish fans were treated differently to Wrexham fans. The police said that there had not been a “light touch” and they had dealt with offences as they occurred.
A member asked why at the home match with Chester a steward had been tasked with confiscating the offensive banner which had sparked disorder in the ground. The police replied that the safety officer had decided to deploy stewards. Police officers followed as stewards were being assaulted. Questions were asked about why the banner had not been confiscated earlier when first seen by the PLO. The police said they decided to deal with it after the game which resulted in 23 people being arrested. Supt. Kirman said he had not been aware of it until after it appeared in the ground.
The question was asked as to what extra cost there would be to the club if it declined to accept the police advice. The police said that there would be no direct cost but there would be to the wider community with extra police being on duty and, if the safety advisory group were not satisfied with the arrangements, then ultimately it could decline to sanction the match. Mark recalled an occasion in the past when the Chester safety advisory group had refused to “sign off” a match.
Don said that the club was part of the fabric of the community. The arrangements did cause inconvenience for everyone and he agreed with many of the comments objecting to it but he would rather experience the bubble then read about disorder in the next day’s papers. That’s why the decision was taken to accept the police advice.
Members asked what other options there were as surely the bubble was a last resort. Mention was made of “section 27” and the power of the police to order people to disperse from certain areas. Why couldn’t this be used to target the trouble makers? The police said that evidence was required to issue such notices which were not effective when dealing with large mobile groups. They repeated the view that there were large numbers of “risk” groups whose aim was to meet and cause disorder. The justification remained- the question was how the arrangements could be improved.
Members asked why police resources could not be used to target the risk groups who seemed to be well known who could arrange to meet up in the town centres regardless of the bubble which impacted upon the law abiding majority.
Members mentioned how the arrangements caused great inconvenience including some who could now no longer attend the match at all. Last year’s lengthy bus journey without toilet facilities, with only two turnstiles open at Chester were mentioned. The journey had to be quicker and better. MW said that the quality of the coaches was due to bank holiday demand and the double deckers slowed down the convoy.
Members asked how other police forces managed derby matches with larger crowds without safe travel arrangements. The police view was that Wrexham had a higher percentage of “risk” groups than many other bigger clubs and quoted the numbers of banning orders. The police said they would consider how other forces managed such games e.g. Grimsby v Lincoln.
Member’s asked where this would end and what other options they had considered. The police said their aim was for the games to eventually be played at 3pm on a Saturday. They acted on the basis of information received and the people who were responsible for the inconvenience were those intent on trouble.
Members quoted the last time we played Chester in 2005 and 2009 when disorder was kept to a minimum and did not justify resorting to the bubble last year. A petition opposing the bubble had so far attracted 500 signatures.
The police said that the operation was “the exact opposite” of a money making exercise and that resources came from their budget. The helicopter was used to broadcast pictures to police control especially to ensure that bridges were not being used to throw missiles.
A member questioned the role of the Board in the decision. Peter Jones said they took advice from the police and the safety advisory group but agreed that next year it could be put to the membership. Mark said that he took time off work to attend the advisory group and in a democratic organisation if members didn’t like decisions made by their representatives they could vote for someone else in the elections.
It was also mentioned that this meeting was not well attended and whilst some members opposed the bubble it wasn’t clear how many did.
Concerns were raised that at the Racecourse disabled fans in wheelchairs were placed closest to the trouble makers.
Finally the police were asked not to treat these arrangements as “the norm”. It was recognised that there were risk elements but was it proportionate to police a non-league game with a relatively small crowd in this way? People’s freedom of movement was being restricted and other ways of ensuring public order should be explored.
The police and the club confirmed that they were looking at ways of improving the arrangements and some of these would be announced nearer the time. The police were thanked for attending and taking questions.
The second half of the meeting consisted of a short Q and A with Board members.
Mention was made of membership running out in April without any renewal notice. PJ explained that we have moved to seasonal membership and were migrating from one database to another. There were some 750 of the new membership cards ready for printing. Richard Ulrich said that once the new sub groups were up and running they would focus on lapsed memberships.
Mention was made of PayPal taking payments out of a members account without notice. MW said that we couldn’t control PayPal and apologised. PayPal were probably using an old e mail address.
Mention was made of match programmes running out. Geraint said that 700 were printed for the Gateshead game which was more than usual but they had sold out.
Mention was made of the suitability of the attire worn by the female raffle ticket sellers. They had been provided with red jackets this season.
The catering faculties at the ground were criticised. This was a topic which would be included in another Red Survey planned for next year.
Mention was made of the possible sale of the ground should Glyndwr decide to sell. There was no sign of that happening but the Club would have first refusal and 6 months to raise the funds.
The 150th anniversary mosaic was mentioned and the need for more fans to submit photos with all proceeds going to improve facilities for the disabled. Details are on the website. It would be unveiled on the 11h October so the final deadline will be 4th October.
150th anniversary ties had been ordered.
Expressions of interest had been received to join the Trust sub groups as set out in the strategic plan and these would be announced soon.
The meeting closed at 2210.
WST Independent Secretary