Hull City denounces 'criminalisation' of fans and backs Huddersfield protest march
Hull City has criticised West Yorkshire Police for the "effective criminalisation of supporters" in the Huddersfield travel row.
In a strongly worded statement released today, the club denounced "draconian restrictions on the freedom of fans" and said it "empathised with the deep sense of grievance" felt by fans over ticket restrictions imposed for the away trip on March 30.
And while it said it had "reluctantly accepted" a compromise over the restrictions, agreed with police earlier this month, it would also support a protest march from Huddersfield town centre to the John Smith's Stadium before the match.
The march has been organised by the Football Supporters' Federation.
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Responding to the statement, the FSF said today: "We're delighted to see that Hull City have outlined their clear opposition to these unjust travel restrictions.
"To our eyes it's one of the strongest pro-fan statements we've seen from a professional football club on these shores."
Police imposed strict travel restrictions for the Tigers trip to Huddersfield when Sky requested a 5.30pm kick-off to allow the game to be broadcast live.
City fans were initially allocated just 1,500 tickets and were told they must travel only on official coaches from Hull.
The sanctions drew widespread criticism and led to a legal challenge on behalf of teenage supporter Louis Cooper, who was facing a 300-mile round trip to watch the game despite living just 30 miles from Huddersfield.
In a later compromise, the ticket allocation was raised to 1,700 and fans were told they could travel independently to Hartshead Moor Services on the M62.
But fans dismissed the compromise and showed the strength of their feelings by marching through West Park to the KC Stadium before the Nottingham Forest match on Saturday.
Today's Hull City statement in full:
"Hull City’s away game with Huddersfield Town on Saturday 30th March has been given the security categorisation of C+IR by West Yorkshire Police. This is the highest possible security categorisation, and, despite Hull City having no record of fan trouble or disorder, West Yorkshire Police have placed draconian restrictions on the freedom of our fans who wish to travel to the match in their usual way.
"Since the imposition of this unprecedented level of security categorisation, we have been endeavouring to remove, or at least reduce, the categorisation which places an unpalatable slur upon the club, its fans and its home city. During this process we have been in close consultation with the Football Supporters’ Federation, who represent football fans across the United Kingdom. The result of these efforts has been a loosening of the travel restrictions but there has been no amendment of the security categorisation.
"As a consequence Hull City has, as a club, been left to reflect upon both the feelings of its own supporters and the implications for away fans in general. We have compared the policies of forces such as West Midlands Police with West Yorkshire Police, who operate under the same national ACPO and FA guidelines, yet apply them in diametrically opposing manners.
"In listening to fans we recognise, and empathise with, the deep sense of grievance over West Yorkshire Police’s effective criminalisation of Hull City supporters. Therefore whilst reluctantly accepting the increase in ticket allocation and slight reduction in travel restrictions as the most practical solution for fans wishing to attend the match, we have also decided to support a protest march organised by the Football Supporters’ Federation, aimed at highlighting the treatment of away football fans.
"The march from Huddersfield Town Centre to Huddersfield Town’s John Smith’s Stadium is planned to begin at 2:30pm, arriving at the stadium at 3:00pm at which time the march banner will be handed over to Hull City supporters attending the match. The banner will then be displayed across the empty seats in the away end.
"In taking this twin-track approach Hull City is addressing the broad range of opinion amongst its fans, which allows for a freedom of choice to protest WYP’s security categorisation through the march, a boycott or match attendance.
"The key message that both the Football Supporters’ Federation and Hull City are seeking to highlight is that football is a spectator sport that is made complete by the presence of fans, home and away, with singing, banter, rivalry and a little rough humour; all of which combines with the match itself to create the heady cocktail of atmosphere that gives fans a great day out. Without fans, football stands at risk of becoming a dry, sterile affair lacking such emotion and passion that supporters so enthusiastically provide.
"At the same time Hull City announces the formation of its Fans’ Liaison & Advisory Group (FLAG), which will engage with fans to bring added life and spectacle to the KC Stadium on match days and allow fans a presence and voice in shaping the match day experience. FLAG’s first meeting took place on Friday 15th March and will convene on a regular basis."