A complete waste of time and money.
Those are the thoughts not just of my matchday experience from Saturday’s dismal 3-0 derby defeat - there’s £26 I’ll never see again -but of the over-the-top bubble match arrangements for the game between Wrexham and Chester FC .
For those needing a recap, football’s only non-league bubble match happens when Chester and Wrexham face each other in the National League.
Both sides’ supporters are cordoned off from each other through a high police presence and away supporters are forced, if they choose to go to the game, to travel on a coach which starts from their home crowd.
It meant nearly 1,000 Blues fans arriving at the Lookers Vauxhall Stadium on Saturday to travel on a police-escorted collection of coaches. After the game, fans have to return to Chester on the same coach before being allowed free.
If you live in Wrexham, tough luck – you have to travel to Chester first, be escorted back to your hometown for the match, then be escorted away to Chester after the game, and only then are you free to return back home.
This was my first time on one of these coaches, having already expressed an opinion that these bubble matches are unnecessarily heavy-handed. Having been ‘inside the bubble’, I can confirm my opinion has only been reinforced.
As fans, the only risk to our safety was when the police car at the head of the multi-coach cordon jabbed on the brakes on the A483 every time he went above 35mph. The concertina effect meant fans in coaches towards the back of the queue felt at risk of suffering whiplash as their driver had to brake sharply while cursing under his breath.
After departing from the coach, following a 70-minute journey which took us to the A483 via a daft 25-minute detour near Ewloe and Broughton, there was a general feeling of exasperation. Mutterings of ‘joke’, ‘mad’, ‘stupid’ and other words not suitable for publication were frequently used in the queue to get into the ground.
One senior fan let off some steam by ranting at one of the Wrexham stewards about how silly this arrangement was, but he was only preaching to the converted. The stewards replied they knew some of the Chester fans – they are friends and colleagues, and knew they weren’t going to cause trouble.
Now, I’m not for one moment saying all fans are innocent – each club has its share of troublemakers – and it’s absolutely right this fixture has a larger than normal police presence to minimise the risk of violence and anti-social behaviour.
But I really question the level of police resources used for a fixture which attracted 6,500 fans. That’s less than one-tenth the number who attended last Thursday’s Manchester United-Liverpool Europa League clash.
In that game there were scuffles in the stands between both sets of fans, some hateful chants and banners, and five arrests were made. And yet there was no question of making the fixture a bubble match, nor will the police make future games between the old rivals a bubble match either.
So why have one for Wrexham and Chester? Why was a police helicopter sent up to monitor all the coaches travelling along the A483? Did the police think one of us would try and escape the vehicle while it trundled along at 35mph?
This May sees elections being held to appoint police and crime commissioners. It would be worth asking candidates on both sides of the border what their views are of the bubble match, and whether they see it as a viable use of time and resources.
Because after three seasons of this - and presuming Chester and Wrexham are in the same league next season - surely police have gathered enough intelligence on who the likely troublemakers are, and can account for them the next time the teams meet.
We really don’t need a bubble match.