‘We don’t need to monitor all supporters anymore as most are there just to enjoy the match’

We hear from West Ham’s top cop Andy Sheldon who has seen it all over the past 14 years

Many Hammers fans would think policing West Ham matches is the top job for a cop, so the West Ham United Supporters’ Trust decided to say ‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello to Andy Sheldon, the club’s Dedicated Football Officer. Sheldon is the Hammers’ copper full time and he’s been pounding the West Ham beat for 14 years. ‘I have seen relegation and promotion, mid-table finishes and, last season, European victory,’ he says.

West Ham has Sheldon to thank that many travelling fans found those European matches produced lifetime memories. ‘I had experience of being abroad with the England set-up. Away forces rely on me a lot more than home forces do.

‘Police abroad are expecting 1980s West Ham fans and part of my role is to speak to those teams and police forces and to say “ignore your preconceptions”. I explain that most West Ham fans will come here to enjoy your culture and your country.’.

Apart from most British officers being unarmed, Sheldon’s team prefer a quiet word to a baton charge. ‘Particularly in Europe where the policing model is different, we can speak to the fans to get them to think how their behaviour impacts on the policing operation and the reputation and way other fans are treated,’ he explains.

The same is true at home matches. ‘We tend to be the first people to find groups being boisterous or actively looking for disorder. It might be we go into a pub that’s bubbling and say we need you to chill out a little bit,’ Sheldon says. That ‘we’ Sheldon uses is a huge operation. European police forces feed back to the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit.

At home games the team falls under the Met’s Central Football Unit, part of the Public Order Planning Unit (called MO6), which covers sporting events and organised protests and marches. Each club has its own Dedicated Football Officer, with some of the smaller clubs sharing the same officer. And there are a couple of Football Banning Officers now who oversee all the clubs.

Several different types of officer work at West Ham matches. Control room staff tend to be the same handful of people on rota. They handle the radio and communications. The vast majority of bobbies fans see are roped in from across London just for the day – Sheldon calls them ‘serials’. There is a Match Commander for the day too. 

Sheldon’s specialist team are called Operational Football Officers (OFOs), identified by yellow and blue high viz jackets. ‘They will engage with supporters and, if there are issues, try to trouble shoot and make it a safe event for the majority,’ Sheldon says. Preparation starts the moment the fixtures are announced. They do risk assessments and check intelligence reports and categorise them, agreeing that with the club. 

Factors include who the opposition is, the day and time of the game, the history of that fixture, plus if there is any specific intelligence. ‘Serious organised disorder is a lot less common but there are still people out there who, for whatever reason, like to arrange fights. It’s not very often but it does still happen. Fortunately, normal fans who don’t want to get involved don’t see it because it tends to happen away from the main supporter groups.’

Six weeks before each kick-off Sheldon does an initial match assessment, followed by an interim assessment two to three weeks out and then a final assessment the week before. But on the day changes happen too. ‘Even the trains not working can have an impact. I then feed that into the Match Commander in case they need to change their plans,’ Sheldon says.

OFOs are out and about meeting fans and to spot fans who are there to cause trouble. They feed that back too. Pubs are a priority. ‘We have a pub Whatsapp group. I will speak to the chair of Pubwatch and they have their meeting.

‘We will pay most of the pubs in Stratford a visit on match days. We also use our contacts in the local licencing teams. As there’s no dedicated away pub locally, we have to travel out to Kings Cross and Liverpool Street or to wherever we hear there are fans drinking,’ Sheldon explains.

Sheldon has a long day. ‘I need to get in before the bosses and the serials so I can pick up any changes and brief up to the bosses. I then brief the OFOs – my team will get a separate briefing about specific individuals or specific intelligence about where people will be drinking,’ he says. 

The paperwork won’t be completed until perhaps four hours after the final whistle. It’s a fair cop: ‘We don’t need to monitor all supporters anymore. Most are there just to enjoy the match,’ sheldon says. Contact PC Andy Sheldon @MPSWestHamUtdFC

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