Five hundred police officers will be involved in a massive operation aimed at preventing derby day violence when Sheffield United and Wednesday meet for the second time this season. Neighbouring forces have agreed to send bobbies to the city to boost numbers for the operation, which aimed at keeping rival fans apart and members of the public safe.
Issuing a stern warning to hooligans ahead of the game, Superintendent Simon Wanless, who is overseeing the derby day for South Yorkshire Police, said Blades and Owls intent on trouble on the day should expect to be arrested and prosecuted. He said the force will seek Football Banning Orders for those involved in disorder.
"Planning for the operation began in September and there will be up to 500 police officers involved," the police chief said. "The aim is to identify those intent on disorder or caught planning or causing it. They will be arrested and we will use this high profile game as an opportunity to seek Football Banning Orders, which will have consequences for them for years to come."
Supt Wanless said that despite some concerns being raised about the evening kick off for the game on Friday, January 12, South Yorkshire Police did not object. He said police chiefs believe the 7.45pm kick off time will reduce the risk of disorder after the game.
"For the last derby, which had a Sunday lunchtime kick off, we were still dealing with associated fighting at 1am on the Monday," he said. "There were people queuing up outside pubs at 7am that day and there was a long period of time afterwards when people could drink, which meant that there were incidents across the city at places including Grenoside, Stocksbridge, Walkley and Mosborough as people had time to go back to their locals for a few more hours.
"For the next derby, some people will take the day off but we believe most will be at work beforehand, reducing the number of hours available for drinking. "Both sets of fans share the city and regardless of the kick off time there is always going to be a risk, so reducing the drinking time was a major factor in our decision." He said the game, to be played at Bramall Lane, 'is probably slightly bigger than the first' with September's meeting having 'whetted the fans' appetite'. Supt Wanless said 'animosity between the fans is palpable' on derby days.
"For 363 days of the year fans from both sides rub along next to each quite comfortably but on derby days the animosity between the fans is palpable'. The rivalry is long running and deep seated and we have to be alert to that," he added. To avoid clashes after the game, Wednesday fans will be asked to 'voluntarily' remain in their seats until the stadium and surrounding streets are cleared of United fans.
Supt Wanless said: "Reasonable and law-abiding fans will understand that this is for their own safety. Those who choose to ignore our request will be singling themselves out for our attention." He said pub bosses have been asked to ensure they have door staff working and that drinks are only served in plastic glasses. They may be asked to close for a set period if there are outbreaks of disorder, the police chief has warned.