The term Dedicated Football Officer might not mean much to the everyday football fan but the virtually invisible role they play during the football season shouldn’t be underestimated.
We headed down to the Liberty Stadium to find out more from one of the small team of Swansea’s Dedicated Football Officer’s (DFO), PC Rachel Thomas.
PC Thomas is no stranger to football matches and in nearly 30 years of service, she has covered many Swansea City and Wales games. She has also been involved in the policing for the 2014 UEFA Super Cup Final between Real Madrid and Sevilla in Cardiff and Wales’ journey through Euro 2016.
Due to policing Wales away games around Europe, including Serbia and Croatia, PC Thomas has gained a great deal of insight and experience in the world of policing football matches, and indeed, event crowd management as a whole.
The first Swansea City game Officer Thomas covered was in September 1988, when the Swans suffered a 5-2 defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers, as she patrolled outside the Vetch Field along William Street – home of Moira and of course the club shop. Officer Thomas was also on duty for the last ever game at the Vetch Field and remembers the occasion well, as fans took their own piece of history home with them!
Nowadays, the role of social media plays a key part in communicating key information messages to the general public and this is something which PC Thomas knows only too well. She was one of the persons responsible for the Wales Football twitter Account during the 2016 European Championships and is also currently undertaking the role for the Wales Police World Cup 2018 account too.
This is of course in addition to the extremely useful information service provided to fans by the South Wales Police Swansea Football twitter account – again managed by Officer Thomas and her colleague. The account was setup in January 2016 as part of a wider social media communications agenda for South Wales Police.
Here are the questions we put to Officer Thomas when we met.
Q: What tasks does a Dedicated Football Officer (DFO) perform?
The DFO forms part of the South Wales Specialist Operations unit, which is based at Police HQ in Bridgend, but whom have a remit for football planning and events within the South Wales Police area. Think of DFOs as neighbourhood police officers for football in the local community and the stadium, so in terms of my role, the community is the 22,000 or so fans that come to the Liberty Stadium and the surrounding area on a match day.
The role involves a lot of planning and collaborative work with the various stakeholders, such as the Swansea Stadium Management Company (SSMC). The primary aim of the DFO is public safety and to ultimately ensure that everyone whom attends a game at the Liberty Stadium does so in a safe environment – regardless of the result!
Q: How much planning goes into a Swans Home Game?
Planning is done months and months in advance of any event. In terms of Swansea City games, as soon as the fixtures are announced in June, the planning for the season ahead begins. Initially we look at the requirements within our own specialist unit and then consult with the Swansea Stadium Management Company (SSMC), who own and run the Liberty Stadium, as well as other key stakeholders.
The planning involved looks at the resources required and available for each game, which obviously varies depending on the opposition and the impact on the wider Swansea community. For example, we wouldn’t take specialist officers from one area and deploy them to another, because of the impact of no longer having the resource available at the original area.
As the event comes closer, we re-visit the plans and keep them updated in light of any changes that have arisen, such as changes due to TV scheduling, transportation issues for home and away fans, volume of fans in attendance and of course even the weather!
Every minor detail is covered to ensure that come the day of the game, everyone has already been well briefed and understands their role for the game in order to ensure that everyone whom attends, does so in a safe and enjoyable manner.
Whilst a lot of pre-planning is done prior to any game, nearer the time some additional changes can be made depending on the opposition and the category assigned to the game. This is especially true of Cup games, whereby the timeframe for planning is considerably less than for league games.
Other factors which have to be taken into consideration but which are often not known until days before the game; such as the mode of travel for supporters (are they arriving by car/bus/train), what is the likely time of arrival (early morning or even staying the weekend), the number of away fans, all of these factors can impact on the police resources required.
For example, if you take into consideration some recent Swansea City home games, then the Manchester United fan base come from all over the UK, unlike fans of Watford, whom predominantly come from Hertfordshire. This has a subsequent impact on policing both locally, nationally (e.g. fans have to travel via other towns/cities) and for the British Transport Police. If away fans choose to stay the weekend, then this can also have an impact on the wider community and police resources.
In terms of general policing for a game, it is based upon previous experience of the fixture and through liaison with the relevant police force. It is important for fans to realise that inside the stadium, the police undertake the role of supporting those stewarding the event and will only intervene if assistance is requested by senior stewards.
Q: Describe a typical home match day for the unit?
With the planning for the game already having been done, match day itself is a case of ensuring that there have been no incidents overnight which might affect the stadium, roads and railway, which could impact on people travelling to and attending the game.
Briefing sessions are then held with key police officers, such as the match commander and specialist officers, in order to ensure that all officers that are on duty are briefed accordingly, so that they are aware of any potential disruptions.
The Match commander, who is based in the visible stadium control room, working closely with the safety officer, communicates with the referee to ensure that he is briefed accordingly both before, during and after the game. Match Commanders are chosen at the start of the season and are assigned to games depending on their knowledge, experience and of course the category of the game.
During the game, the unit monitors the situation both inside and outside the stadium, responding to any events and supporting stewards accordingly. Following the game, a de-brief and review session is held in order to gather feedback and any lessons learned, whilst assessing the success of the match day operation.
Since the Liberty Stadium opened in 2005, we have tried to make fans aware and accustomed to the manner in which games are policed, all with the aim of ensuring their safety, such as as supporting the stadiums’ closing of the roads outside the Liberty at the end of the game.
Whilst we have a role to play as police officers, we are also present to support other bodies such as Swansea Council, including parking officers, as everyone whom drives to a game needs to park in a safe and considerate manner. You would be surprised at how many cars drive down the bus lanes in Neath Road whom are unaware of the cameras recording them! We’d encourage those drivers to stop doing so as they are putting themselves and others at risk.
A key message for fans attending any event at the stadium is to get there early and avoid any last minute rush and congestion. Not bringing a bag along to the stadium can also help as it speeds things up for stewards, whom otherwise have to check each bag upon entry. Fans need to remember that we are there to help and ultimately to ensure their safety.
Q: Does the unit perform any duties for or at Swansea City away games?
Yes we do and the small team of officers that attend away games, are all suitably trained, qualified and very experienced. Their role at away games is to ensure the safety of Swansea City away fans, just as if it were a game at the Liberty Stadium – albeit on a smaller scale as it is an away game. In many respects, it is a role reversal, as we would advise the home DFO about things such as number of away fans travelling, method of transport, etc., just as they would advise us if the game were being held at the Liberty Stadium.
All clubs have their own DFOs and they will always be present at both home and away games of that particular club. This is important as it builds up knowledge and rapport with our local football community.
Q: On a personal level what is your favourite and least favourite part of the job?
Although my husband is a Swansea City fan and season ticket holder, believe it or not, I am not that interested in the actual match – but I do always keep an eye out for the Swans results! Even though I enjoy sport, I get more satisfaction ensuring that the work I do has a positive impact on everyone else’s enjoyment, as after all, they are there to see the teams they support.
There isn’t anything I don’t like about the job, but I do remember one occasion when I got a bit embarressed. It was in March 2013, on “Super Saturday” as we’d called it when Swansea played Arsenal in the Premier League and Wales played England in Cardiff for the Six Nations title. South Wales Police had decided to try and communicate as much information as possible to fans attending both games.
Usually I don’t take much notice of the players and they don’t take notice of me, but I ended up having my picture taken with one of the players prior to the game as part of the social media campaign that day.
We’d like to thank PC Rachel Thomas for her time and for giving us an insight into the world of a Dedicated Football Officer.
Why not follow the South Wales Police Swansea Football Twitter account and help make a visit to the Liberty Stadium a safe one for everyone.
— SWP Swansea Football (@swp_scfc) November 6, 2016