THE BOBBY ON THE TERRACE
We don’t pretend to see football differently here at The Terrace. In fact, if you ever see us publish an article that starts to resemble a thesis or has as many stats as it does statements, please delete the app, unsubscribe, and unfollow us.
With that in mind, we do like the different experiences football can bring us and therefore, in what will hopefully become a regular feature in this here blog, we will be talking to different voices in football. From the coppers that police matchdays, to the kids and teenagers that ballboy for their heroes, we’ll be talking to them about how a matchday plays out for them. We might even try and find a hotdog seller.
In this edition, we spoke to The Bobby on the Terrace.
The Terrace: Thank you, officer, for coming in for questioning. Let's start with this: how long have you been a Bobby for?
The Bobby: Since 1995 - in my 25th year now.
The Terrace: And what kind of roles have you done in that time?
The Bobby: Shift officer, beat officer [a bobby], Human Trafficking team, Counter Terrorism, Domestic Violence team, and High Risk Offenders.
The Terrace: So how did you end up doing football matches?
The Bobby: You could volunteer for it as overtime, but it was considered part of your normal duty shift if you were on duty that weekend. It wasn't specialised when I was originally doing it. I'm not sure 100% if that's still how it is but I think it only goes out to specific teams nowadays.
The Terrace: What was the role called, officially?
The Bobby: Matchday Football Duty, because I was purely there for the football game, nothing else.
The Terrace: How long did you do Matchday Football Duty from?
The Bobby: My first game was in my first year as a PC, so 1995, and I did it until 2003/04
The Terrace: Do you remember the first game you did it for?
The Bobby: I wish I could, I did some memorable ones. I used to love it, I used to look forward to it so much, the chance to see my club. To see your team and get paid for it as well. I can’t remember, it was too long ago.
The Terrace: And your last?
The Bobby: No, no. But we were relegated soon after.
The Terrace: Did you get to see much of the game yourself?
The Bobby: Yeah! [he says, smiling]
The Terrace: Were you not supposed to be facing the crowd?!
The Bobby: Yeah……pretty much. One of my favourite memories, it was Christmas time, it was winter anyway. We played Arsenal at home, me and my sergeant at the time were in the away end and Tony Adams got sent off. My arm went up in celebration and my sergeant immediately pushed it down, saying “remember where we are!”
The Terrace: Presumably you did a mixture of home and away ends?
The Bobby: Usually in the away end. We’d be in a line between the home and away fans at the new stadium, but at the old stadium, we’d stand at the back of the stand behind all the fans so we could see everyone. If there was a goal, we’d have to run down the stairs to the front in case of pitch invaders.
The Terrace: Quickly run us through a Matchday Football Duty shift.
The Bobby: For a 3pm kick off, you’d be in at the station for midday. You’d then all make your way down to the ground for the briefing from whoever was the matchday commander. You’d get the brief, including any intel on travelling troublemakers expected, and then it would literally be patrolling outside around the ground and surrounding areas, until taking up your designated spot around the stadium just before kick-off. After the game, those who were unlucky were sent back to the station to deal with any in custody, or you’d be doing street patrols around the ground until it had all cleared up. That could be a good couple of hours after the game had finished, depending on who the visiting team were.
The Terrace: You did duty across two stadiums. Did it differ at the newer one?
The Bobby: It changed because of how the new stadium was; it had CCTV and everything. At the new stadium we were more there to be called to something if the spotters on CCTV saw something going on, whereas at the old stadium, although we had radios and a directing sergeant, it was very different inside the ground. Afterwards, or close to full time, you’d be called to go outside and congregate outside the away support’s pub. The violence of the 80s had gone but some of the clubs that came down still had the reputation for violence. There were minor scuffles, a few idiots, but I’ve always thought our fans have been extremely well-behaved.
The Terrace: Were there any particular clubs you dreaded being on duty for?
The Bobby: There were certain teams, Chelsea and Leeds by reputation, but no club stood out. I used to hate getting called out of the stadium, though. It would happen around ten to fifteen minutes before full-time. As a supporter, it was agonising waiting outside the stadium for the full-time whistle, or a cheer, or the muted cheer of the away fans.
The Terrace: Has any game lasted in the memory for trouble?
The Bobby: [Puffs cheeks] It’s funny, the games that stand out for trouble were ones I went to as a supporter. We didn’t have a hooligan problem. The most I can remember is two or three being nicked or ejected for obscenities or drunkenness. We were lucky in that respect, we weren’t one of the big clubs with big bad boy reputations. In the 80s we did, though most clubs did.
The Terrace: What were the holding cells like at the old stadium? I’ve seen them at the new stadium.
The Bobby: I don’t think we had any. I think they were ejected straight out of the ground into a waiting police van. You’d have a unit inside the ground, and one sat in reserve watching the game on a screen in the clubhouse. The old stadium was primitive in comparison to what we’ve got now.
The Terrace: Did you have to make many arrests yourself?
The Bobby: [Thinks for a while] I don’t know if I did. What you did have to do was if anyone had been arrested and sent back to the station, if you were unlucky, you’d be allocated to deal with them in custody. The other duty was driving around the pubs after the game as fans dispersed, just keeping an eye until we were stood down. The other thing that most of us looked forward to – though that might not be the right word – was the doggy bag. There’d be a few nice rolls in it and some chocolate.
The Terrace: So do you think football fans have an unfair reputation. It sounds as if it was relatively hassle free in your nine years on Matchday Football Duty?
The Bobby: I think it really was [hassle free], especially at our club. I can’t talk for other clubs around the country, but it was here.
The Terrace: Conversely, I know you got a tooth knocked out whilst on duty. That wasn’t on matchday duty, but was it on a matchday?
The Bobby: No, no. It was a nightshift and happened outside a nightclub. The bouncer had ejected a drunken clubber who then walked down the road kicking parked cars. I went to have a word and he threw a punch at me. I don’t think he even knew I was a PC. Back in those days you were never ever single-crewed so a few other officers saw it happen and he was arrested. Obviously I wasn’t involved in it going forward, but apparently he was incredibly apologetic the next day and couldn’t even remember doing it! It was nothing to do with football, though.
The Terrace: Did you end up in any fortunate positions in your time on duty?
The Bobby: No, I don’t recall any. I was never on the dugout – the same guy always did the dugout and he knew one of our best players. I can’t remember properly, but he was the best man at the player’s wedding, or vice versa.
The Terrace: Did you ever have to do away games?
The Bobby: No. We had a spotters team and they’d go on away games because they knew who the trouble makers were. On the whole, though, there really was not much trouble during my time.
The Terrace: So why do you think football fans are so maligned?
The Bobby: I think because historically we went through a really nasty time, there was Heysel and the like, but English fans travelling abroad really haven’t helped the image of football fans. There certainly was a very organised culture of football hooliganism though – in the 80s and very early 90s. You couldn’t escape reports in the news, almost every weekend there was something.
The Terrace: Did that play on your mind when you first started duty?
The Bobby: I think you were more aware because it was a tiny, compact ground. As a new recruit it was quite daunting because it was a big public event with the potential to go very wrong very quickly. Having been there many, many times as a fan, it did change something. Fans and fanbases were still suffering for a reputation earned in the 80s. I never enjoyed Manchester United, Leeds, or Chelsea coming to town, for example.
The Terrace: So, nine years, probably a couple hundred of games, what’s your standout memory?
The Bobby: [No hesitation] The last every game at the old stadium, but hand on heart, I cannot remember if I was there as a fan or on duty! I just know I was there. To be honest, I think it would have been on duty, because I don’t think I would’ve got a ticket for the game.
Next time you see a copper on matchday, remember they might be a fan too!
The name of 'The Bobby', the club in question, and other identifying features have been left out in the interest of fair anonymity.