A group which represents football fans in England and Wales says it's time to end the 'draconian' bubble match restrictions on derby matches involving Chester FC and Wrexham.
The call, made by the Football Supporters' Federation, follows a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by The Chronicle which revealed there was one police officer for every 23 fans at last year's match at the Lookers Vauxhall Stadium.
Since 2013, 'bubble match' restrictions have meant away fans of both clubs have been transported to and from the games under police escort, in an effort to stamp out crowd trouble which has sometimes blighted past fixtures.
But the feeling among many supporters is that the measures are too heavy-handed and it has led to claims the heavy policing has sucked the life out of the keenly-contested fixture.
Our FoI request revealed that a total of 162 officers and 38 police vehicles were deployed by Cheshire Constabulary for the October derby in Chester, which was attended by 3,714 fans.
In contrast, 166 officers and 29 vehicles were used across three days to police last year's May Day Festival at Chester Racecourse, an event attended by more than 54,000 people in total from Wednesday to Friday.
The ratio of racegoers to officers last year, prior to the ban on alcohol on the open course being introduced, was 325 to one.
After being shown the figures, a Football Supporters Federation (FSF) spokesperson told us: "The FSF have long been opposed to 'bubble' matches. Supporters of no other sport or activity have to put up with such draconian restrictions.
"Local tax payers and voters in the Police Commissioner elections will be posing questions about the scale of the police operation around these fixtures.
"Supporters will ask why fixtures such as the Tyne-Wear derby and the Manchester derby can be played without enforced coach travel yet this fixture can’t be?"
With the Police and Crime Commissioner elections taking place today, the issue of just how to police Chester FC/Wrexham derbies is high on the agenda for candidates in both Cheshire and North Wales.
'In football you have one gang against another'
Current Cheshire PCC, Conservative John Dwyer, speaking in early April, said: "Turn it on its head. What would the public do, what would the media do, if as a result of a small police presence we ended up with a riot in the city?
"It would be headlines 'Police lose it'. If I were the chief constable I would rather be accused of over-policing than under-policing.
"They (racegoers) don't cause trouble in the same way (as football fans) as they are not a gang. In football you have one gang against another."
Mr Dwyer's view is opposed by Arfon Jones, Plaid Cymru PCC candidate for North Wales and Gwersyllt West councillor, who believes that both North Wales and Cheshire constabularies should learn from the example of Merseyside Police when it comes to policing derby matches.
"The bubble match is unjust, unfair and disproportionate to the 99% of people who just want to go and watch a football match," said Cllr Jones.
"I'm a Wrexham fan and speaking to people I know that supporters are 100% behind the police force, just not the restrictions of the bubble match.
"When Wrexham travelled to Tranmere this season we took 1,200 fans and Merseyside Police were in complete control of the situation and policed the game extremely well. You had the odd few cause problems but that happens at football matches, unfortunately. But the way Merseyside Police handled things showed how to police these games and it's something that Cheshire and North Wales forces should look to try and emulate."
In January 2014 the FSF successfully campaigned, alongside Newcastle United and Sunderland supporters' groups, to end the bubble match restrictions placed upon the Tyne and Wear derby following discussions with police.
Cheshire Constabulary reaffirmed their stance on the bubble match and that their decision to deploy more resources to police the derby match was based on an individual assessment.
Superintendent Bev Raistrick said: “Every large event in Cheshire is looked at individually and we make decisions on whether to police the event – or the numbers of officers involved – based on this assessment. An important aim, whenever officers attend events, is to work with the organisers to ensure the well-being of event-goers, fans and the public at large.
“We only police a very small number of football matches in the county, and where we do this is based on an assessment. Likewise, we police all Chester races given the large numbers of visitors.”