THE officer in charge of policing tomorrow’s Tyne-Wear derby is confident that travelling Sunderland fans will be kept safe.
No designated Metro trains for Sunderland supporters will be in service, and there will not be the usual police escort for fans from Newcastle Central railway station to St James’s Park, but more officers will be on duty than ever before.
With more than 200,000 people expected in Newcastle on the last Sunday before Christmas, police say they will have officers lining key routes and are confident the occasion will be a secure one for supporters.
Chief Superintendent Steve Neill said: “Our message to Sunderland fans is that it is going to be a safe event.
“Supporters should think about travel arrangements and leave plenty of time for their journey, because it will be busy, and we are expecting more than 200,000 people to visit the city.
“We will have more officers on duty for the derby than we ever have before.
“Officers will line key routes, and will also be present on Metro stations from Sunderland to Newcastle and on the Metros themselves to reassure people.”
The decisions not to put on designated Metros or provide a police escort from the train station have been criticised by some supporters.
However, police are hopeful that taking what they describe as a mature approach will work.
Chief Supt Neill added: “We have decided to do things slightly differently this year and have been having meetings with fans’ groups about this for about a year.
“We think, from those meetings and talks with both clubs, as well as the local authority and transport services, that this is the best way.
“It is a more mature way of how we police the derby, while we also try to minimise the impact it has on the transport system.
“We have worked very closely with the clubs, and they have been fully supportive of the plans, as have the local authority, the business community and the fans’ groups we have met with.”
There will also be a heavy police presence in Sunderland tomorrow before, during and after the match’s kick-off at 1.30pm.
Sunderland supporters going to the game on free coaches organised by their club will be given a police escort, unlike their peers travelling by train.
Chief Supt Neill said: “There will be a sizeable number of officers throughout Sunderland from early in the day, and there is an agreement with licensees that no alcohol will be served before 10am.
“Those going to the game on the free coaches put on by Sunderland will be escorted by police from the Stadium of Light to St James’s Park.
“We have tried not to dictate to Sunderland supporters and, rather, to give them options.
“It is entirely a matter for individuals if they want to get to the game in a private vehicle or by the Metro.
“They should plan ahead, allow a bit of extra time and talk to the police officers who will be present.”
Sunderland supporters will also be kept behind at St James’s Park for a short period after the match to allow time for rival fans to disperse.