Monday, 11 July 2011

Doncaster Rovers first up was no accident

Every year fans sit patiently waiting for the fixtures to come out.

It is the first sign of the new season. New hopes and dreams are at the mercy of the no-doubt behomothic super computer slowly taking over the Football League's headquarters like Skynet in the Terminator films.

One day it will develop a consciousness and stage a cyber coup. All matches will then be decided by intricate number crunching based around the early powering system of Championship Manager. Tonto Zolo Moukoko will finally realise his potential and be named the best player in the world.

But, until that day arrives, the fixture generator - no doubt the distant cousin of the vidi-printer - makes do with engineering an end-of-season run in from hell, or blessing a favoured few with a kind start. Biding its time.

This year Brighton fans were more interested than most. The first match, you see, would also be the first proper game at the new Amex Community Stadium. Who did we want? Opinions varied from an easy home start or a Battle Royale with Pompey or Palace.

As it turned out the Stripes were given a home match against Doncaster Rovers - the very same opponents in the last ever game at the Goldstone.

Quirk of the fixture list? Not so. Nothing as romantic as that.

Sussex Police's Football Intelligence and Liaison Officer PC Darren Balkham revealed this week that the police had in fact asked the Football League for that to be the opening match.

Speaking at a supporters' club meeting he said officers had wanted Doncaster because their fans would recognise the importance of the fixture, respect the occasion and grant Sussex Police a full-house to warm-up with before the visit of less friendly rivals.

He also explained that the decision to move Leeds United's visit (which was originally scheduled for terestrial) nearly cost the club £100,000 after the nearby university asked for it to be rearranged. Sky stepped in and the club breathed a fairly audible sigh of relief.

And the two matches with Palace are both midweek on police request. PC Balkham explained that if the home match had been an afternoon kick-off the police operation would have started in the early hours of the morning and lasted until midnight.

No visiting fans will be kept back at The Amex after games and supporters will be allowed to mingle before and after matches - with no substantial visible police presence in the ground. Instead there will be teams of plain clothed officers throughout the ground. He told the meeting Sussex Police had been planning for games for the last three years and was confident major trouble would be avoided.

The fast-approaching visit of Tottenham will give them their first real test - particularly after Spurs fans were involved in violent clashes with Brighton supporters during last season's friendly with Aberdeen.

Fingers crossed the first season at The Amex is a peaceful one.

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