Police will pull no punches on Sunderland derby day

Police watch over fans before the Barclays Premier League match at the Stadium of Light in August 2011.

Police watch over fans before the Barclays Premier League match at the Stadium of Light in August 2011.

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A POLICE chief has vowed to take a zero-tolerance approach to derby-day trouble-makers.

Chief Superintendent Steve Neill, pictured, in charge of the policing operation, said his officers are ready to stop potential flashpoints at the Stadium of Light for the crunch Sunderland-Newcastle match on Sunday.

In recent years, Wear-Tyne derby has passed off without major disturbances, with the 2008 clash on Wearside the last to be marred by ugly on-pitch confrontations.

The game, which ended in a 2-1 win for the Black Cats, saw coins and fireworks launched at police officers and rival fans.

As violence spilled on to the pitch, angry fans broke free from stewards to confront players.

However, Northumbria Police say supporters should have no fear of trouble flaring at the 135th league game between the clubs as they prepare to crack down on thugs who flout the law.

Chief Superintendent Steve Neill, who will be overseeing the force’s matchday operation, said: “The preparations are going very well.

“We’ve been preparing pretty much since the fixtures came out.

“There will be a significant number of officers in both Sunderland and Newcastle.

“I’m pleased that the last four or five derby matches, in both cities, have seen fewer arrests and there has been an overall improvement in behaviour.

“We aim to continue that this weekend.”

However, Chief Supt Neill said it was vital that police remain vigilant to potential flashpoints and supported measures aimed at cutting down alcohol consumption ahead of the kick-off.

Earlier this month, the force successfully opposed applications by city pubs to open early.

“The approach has been successful,” he said. “Alcohol is a factor in derby-day disturbances and we’ve addressed that.

“The fixture has been brought forward to reduce alcohol consumption and as a result we’ve seen an improvement in the behaviour of fans and a far better atmosphere at the games.”

The match will also see the return an eight-foot temporary metal barrier, erected outside the ground to replace the usual wall of police officers.

The structure not only keeps the fans apart, but prevents them from seeing each other as they make their way to and from the match.

Chief Supt Neill said the cordon system had proved an effective tool in improving safety and will be deployed again at the weekend.

“Since it was first introduced, it has been an effective tool in reducing tensions and the potential for disorder,” he said.

“We’re confident that we have the correct approach. Both before and after the matches we meet with fans’ groups and representatives.

“Each time, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.”

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho