There has now been a strange twist in the tale of all Sunderland fans being forced to travel on official coaches in an attempt to avert derby match trouble when Newcastle play Sunderland at St.James’ Park on February 1.

When the decision first became public it was said to be following consultation between all interested parties; the clubs, police, fans etc. but pretty much everybody assumed that Northumbria Police would have forced the issue through.

derby match troubleHowever, in a surprising move Northumbria Police have made an astonishing further statement where they are claiming that the decision was solely Sunderland’s and that they have no power to dictate how fans travel to matches.

Assistant Chief Constable Jo Farrell;

“We welcome the decision by Sunderland football club in trying to avoid the disorder that’s arisen at recent derby matches.

“In particular Sunderland’s initiative to condition ticket sales on travel to St.James’ Park aims to prevent the disorder that occurred around Central Station and the routes to and from the stadium at last year’s match. During the escort of Sunderland supporters from the stadium to Central Station there were incidents of disorder in Newcastle city centre directed at them and police.

“The transportation issue has been discussed between both clubs and the police. Based on those discussions Sunderland took this decision which is aimed at ensuring the safety of their supporters.

“Northumbria Police cannot direct changes to kick-off times or control the issue of tickets and how supporters travel to matches.

“We’ve worked closely with both football clubs and spectators groups in advance of this fixture to minimise a repeat of last year’s fixture.”

I find this statement amazing and the secondary claim that it is nothing to do with the police when kick-off times are changed is disingenuous at best.

I’m guessing this won’t be the last we hear of this as I think Sunderland have been hung out to dry by Northumbria Police. The police may not be able to ‘direct changes’ to when matches kick-off or how fans travel to matches but I bet they very much ‘strongly advise’!!

Taking the police statement at face value then, there will be no demand that Newcastle fans are all forced to travel in the future on official coaches to Sunderland and we can all look forward to future derby matches kicking off at a traditional 3pm if not on TV or the odd 5.30pm on a Saturday teatime if Sky/BT fancy televising them.

Takes some believing doesn’t it?