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JOINT STATEMENT: Sunderland and Newcastle fans join forces to say no to “bubble” match

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and Supporters Direct merged to become the FSA in 2019 – so this page may contain hyperlinks that do not work and/or have missing files. Our archived pages are not maintained and will not be updated.

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UPDATE – Great news, the “bubble” match is no longer going ahead for this fixture so campaigning actions are no longer required. Find out more here.

Fans from both Newcastle United and Sunderland have put rivalries aside to launch a campaign against the decision to make the upcoming Tyne-Wear derby a “bubble” match. This is a unique coalition and shows the depth of feeling on both Wearside and Tyneside.

The Football Supporters’ Federation stands shoulder-to-shoulder with fans’ groups, fanzines, podcasts and websites A Love Supreme, Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust,, Ready To Go, Roker Report, Seventy3, The Mag, True Faith and Wise Men Say, in opposing this bubble match.

Bubble matches are games where no independent transport is allowed. This means supporters can’t drive to the match or use public transport but must use official club transport which departs from designated points.

These matches place huge restrictions on an individual’s freedom of movement and can cause massive problems for fans travelling from areas other than the town or city of the club they support.

This is about more than travel logistics though – it’s about a decision which effectively labels every travelling fan a potentially violent hooligan.

There’s no disputing that there was disorder outside St James’ Park after the derby in April 2013. However, the vast majority of those arrested were mindless idiots who hadn’t even been to the match.

According to press reports, of the 96 people arrested at last year’s derby on match day, only six had been to the game. Match-going fans aren’t the problem here, yet it is they who are being punished.

After that game Chief Superintendent Steve Neill, of Northumbria Police, said: “The vast majority of fans were well behaved today and enjoyed the Tyne-Wear derby for the great occasion that it is.” He went on to say that “disruptive behaviour of any kind is not tolerated…action will be taken against all those involved.”

All of the fans’ groups and fanzines involved in this campaign back that point of principle. There is absolutely no place for violence at football and as match-going fans we don’t want hooligans in football grounds.

However, Northumbria Police’s decision to enforce a bubble match goes against that principle. Bubble matches punish the vast majority of law-abiding, match-going fans, because of the actions of the few.

This decision is alienating the very fans that Northumbria Police and Sunderland AFC say they are trying to protect. It’s an own goal.

The north east derby can produce a fantastic, white hot atmosphere, but rivalry and hatred don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Traditional rivals are now standing together to say no to bubble matches.

While these restrictions will only affect Sunderland fans this season it sets a precedent which could be extended to Newcastle United’s travelling support in future seasons. Moving beyond the north east, bubble matches are an issue that should matter to all fans. Their use must not become commonplace.

That’s why it’s so important fans put rivalries aside and stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

Watching Football Is Not A Crime!

ACTIONS FOR FANS: All of the fans’ groups, fanzines, podcasts, and websites involved believe that the best course of action is to lobby the clubs, police and politicians who have the power to do something about this.

See the email addresses below of all relevant parties – contact them and explain, in reasonable terms, why you oppose this bubble match. Feel free write something yourself or use this template.


Kevin Miles, chief executive of the FSF, said: “This proposal runs counter to all recent progress in football policing nationally. Bubble matches are an admission of policing failure and Northumbria Police’s recent attempts to pass the buck entirely to Sunderland AFC doesn’t change that. There has been no real consultation with fans on this.”

Martyn McFadden, editor of Sunderland fanzine A Love Supreme, said: “This decision is fundamentally wrong and an attack on law abiding football fans. We are not animals and should be able to choose an appropriate mode of transport to travel to matches. The only positive to come from this scenario is that fans from both clubs have come together to oppose this.”

Michael Martin, editor of Newcastle United fanzine True Faith, said: “Things have taken quite a surreal turn at True Faith lately as, for once, we totally agree with Sunderland fans on something. This is a disgraceful decision and we will do everything we possibly can to support the rights of football supporters, be they Sunderland or anyone else.”

Mal Robinson, editor of Sunderland fanzine Seventy3, said: “The announcement of a ‘bubble’ style fixture shows a blatant lack of regard for the fans both in the logistics of getting to the game and a lack of trust in their behaviour. It is only the minority that are intent on spoiling things for both sets of fans, yet the majority have been punished so it seems in this case. I would urge all parties privy to this decision to reconsider.”

Stephen Goldsmith and Gareth Barker, Wise Men Say podcast: “The civil liberties of supporters are all too often forgotten in the bureaucracy of modern football. We believe supporters of both clubs should be shown the respect they deserve and be given the right to make their way to the Tyne-Wear derby as they see fit. The authorities have an opportunity to work with supporters of both clubs to come to the only correct conclusion and remove this restriction.”

Biffa, from, said: “As recently as 1997, Tyne-Wear derby games were played out with no official away presence and the concept of ‘bubble’ policing represents a partial return to those unenlightened days. The antics of the infamous ‘horse puncher’ and the consequent media frenzy following last season’s Tyneside derby meeting have triggered a clampdown on travelling fans mostly unaware of and unaffected by those events. In short, this is a punishment for those who have committed no crime.”

Michael Graham, editor of the Roker Report, said: “We cannot oppose this decision strongly enough. In using the fixture as a reason to restrict the civil liberties of football fans who wish to attend, what should be a celebration of north east football and those who love it has been savagely twisted into an indiscriminate condemnation of it instead.”

Mark Jensen, editor of The Mag, said: “Everybody understands the need to try and ensure the safety of fans attending a football match but this goes too far because of the actions of a small number of people, most of who didn’t even go to the last derby at St.James’ Park. A dangerous precedent will be set if the ‘bubble’ plan goes ahead and the authorities be seen to have washed their hands as to their responsibilities to the law-abiding, overwhelming majority.”

Addendum – Northumbria Police contacted the FSF to say that out of the total 156 arrested during the operation, 57 of these were at the match including 33 NUFC season ticket holders. 

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