Wigan Athletic and officialdom have always had their problems. Jump back to 1932 and Wigan Borough failing to fulfil their fixtures. Nothing to do with Wigan Athletic? Well it effectively stopped us getting into the league for 40 odd years. Draw Leeds United in the quarter finals of the FA Cup? Good for the club and the town? Then why did the home office have to get involved before the game could go ahead? Get Liverpool in the League cup? Our friends and family shutter up and force us to play both legs at Anfield.
There’s many more examples, some little, some not so little, but the latest has to be the biggest and potentially most devastating incident. By now most people will know the background to this, it’s even been on GMTV for crying out loud, so I’ll try to keep it short. Over a period of between 2 and 3 year years the club, and Mr Whelan in particular it would seem, feel that they have been grossly overcharged for the cost of policing football at the JJB.
As such they have only been paying the proportion of the bill that they feel is appropriate, leading to a shortfall of some £300,000. Wrangles between the club and police have apparently been going on in the background for some time but the situation has come to head more recently. Firstly there was the publishing of the table below, showing comparative costs on hosting the same away team for Preston and Burnley;
and also a few figures for our Premier League neighbours, that great family club, Bolton;
Then there was the Leeds game, a crowd of 17,177 and an away team with a bit of a reputation, you might expect a slightly higher bill. The actual bill from GMP was over £43,000, where as apparently it cost Preston £7,000 for their fixture. An infuriated Whelan came out with a statement detailing the police bill (below) and restating his desire to resolve the issue, in court if necessary.
The week before another high profile game (Ipswich), the club received an answer phone message (how professional!) stating that GMP would be moving for removal of the ground’s safety certificate. This gave the club a chance to turn this into a national issue, Whelan presented a statement to the press before kick off and gave interviews on the subject, restating his desire for a resolution and hinting at the reasons why GMP seemed reluctant to take the matter to court.
The days following the Ipswich game saw widespread coverage of the issue, in both the obvious (Sky Sports News etc.) and the not so obvious (GMTV, yes GMTV!). The club maintaining its desire to resolve the issue, GMP sullying the club’s reputation and at times making us sound like Chelsea, and the like, in the mid 80’s and laying on the threat that we wouldn’t be able to play our home fixtures for the rest of the season.
Although most of these reports presented the issue reasonably, there were a couple that were used to present anti-Latics propaganda by GMP, peddling the tired old lines about football hooliganism and claiming that costs at Bolton were lower because of their ‘family club’ status. The club maintained dignity through this and never asked GMP whether they were so bad at their jobs that they required twice as many officers to police a game than Lancashire Police do?
Not that I’m saying that’s why we are over policed, it’s more likely that the officer who makes these decisions is worried how it looks if they have a reasonable number of officers at the game but something did happen. Why run that risk when the taxpayer doesn’t have to pay the bill? Our favourite bookmaker also got into the act, taking a u turn on his recent sucking up to the Latics by distancing himself from those nasty footballers and stating that the situation had nothing to do with his nice rugby boys, who don’t need police at their games.
At this stage the only other body that had got involved was the Football League, who as you’d expect hadn’t come out in strong support of Whelan’s actions but had supported the need for a consistent approach to police charging. The council only got involved after GMP applied for our certificate to be revoked and a meeting was held the day after where a compromise position was arranged.
The club has agreed to pay any future bills, allowing the remaining games to be paid, but the outstanding £280,000 will remain unpaid. Whilst some people struggle to see the point in not paying up, without the arrears there is nothing to dispute and it is unlikely that the club will ever get their day in court. In fact the only other way this would have ended up in court would be for the police to have removed their services, I know which way I prefer.
So we might be able to play out the season, but there’s no way that we’ve heard the last of this. With no international tournament this summer, it will be our battle with the police that will distract us from the Ashes series. If it’s not sorted by the start of next season then GMP could be fighting against a Premier League team, which puts a slightly different perspective on the situation.
Since this article was written, statistics have come to light that show more fans are chucked out of the JJB during rugby games than during football matches. More importantly the Sports Minister, Richard Carbon has made a statement calling for a consistent approach to charging for policing football matches. Although there doesn’t appear to be a solution on the horizon at least it appears that there is someone out there who wants to do something about this.
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