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Huge police operation for Saints' clash with Pompey
IT will be one of the biggest police operations ever seen in Hampshire for a football match.
Hundreds of officers will have their rest days cancelled as the force tries to ensure that the south coast derby clash between Saints and Pompey passes off safely.
More than 200 police, including officers on horseback and the force dog unit, will be on duty in Portsmouth next month when the rivals meet at Fratton Park.
The cost of the operation on December 18 is expected to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds and will see key routes into the city guarded by police and 8ft steel barricades used to block sideroads to allow thousands of Southampton fans to be driven in safely under escort.
Aircraft will also be flying over the route to relay information on potential trouble hotspots to the enormous convoy, while bridges and key points along the route will be manned by police to ensure that there are no flashpoints.
They are extreme measures being put into place by police chiefs who feel that they have no option – and who are determined not to let a minority intent on fighting or causing disorder have their way.
It will be the first time that the two sides have met at Fratton Park for five years – and comes six years after riots broke out in parts of the city when the two teams met.
Further details of the mammoth plan, which will see up to 3,200 Saints fans transported to Pompey in a “coach bubble”, were revealed yesterday at a top-level command meeting.
As the Daily Echo went to press there were still several hundred tickets available in the Southampton allocation, leading police chiefs to believe that hundreds of seats in the away end could be empty.
Ticket sales closed at midnight last night.
It’s believed that the controversial bubble plan, which will see all Saints fans transported together in coaches under police guard, has left some fans angry, while the lure of a televised game has tempted others to stay at home.
The Southampton team coach will be made to travel to the city early, leaving Marchwood training ground escorted by four motorcyclists from Thames Valley Police.
Coaches full of supporters will then leave for Fratton Park in two batches – the first with fans travelling from Winchester, who will meet the first convoy from St Mary’s on the M27 and will travel into the city along the Eastern Road together at a slow speed.
The second convoy will depart shortly after, with the remainder of fans from Southampton meeting coaches in Bursledon to make the journey together.
Many local pubs near the ground will be closed, local businesses have been warned to expect disruption, and residents and shoppers heading towards Portsmouth on what will be one of the busiest shopping days of the year are being urged to avoid the area.
Steps have also been taken to educate local schoolchildren and known “risk” groups of youths, while calls have been made to ensure that essential services such as meals on wheels deliveries can still be made in the area.
Inside the ground, Saints fans will be policed by up to 50 of their own stewards. After the game, fans will depart together – with a predicted 46 coaches expected to form one convoy out of the city and back to Southampton.
Supt Rick Burrows, who is in charge of the operation, said that the number of officers was necessary.
He added: “We are constantly being updated on intelligence and the more I hear of that, the more I have to do it this way.
“Our priority is to ensure fans enjoy a good and safe day out.
“Anyone intent on causing trouble needs to know that it simply won’t be tolerated.”