Arrests of rivalling North East football fans have been halved in the space of one season, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
During their 2015/16 seasons, Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC amassed over 50 arrests each at home games.
Newcastle had 63 of their fans arrested at or near St James’s Park, while Sunderland had 56 of their fans arrested at or near the Stadium of Light.
Those numbers were more than halved for both clubs in their 2016/17 seasons, Newcastle with just 30 home game arrests and Sunderland only 23.
Mark Betham, from Newcastle Fans TV, said the low numbers are good for the region.
“Reductions in arrests are a positive for everyone in the North East, it shows how warm and welcoming we are – not just for football,” he said.
Salut! Sunderland’s Peter Sixsmith said the lower number of arrests were due to one reason in particular.
“There were no derby games as Newcastle were in the Championship,” he said.
“That meant that the only fixture that ‘matters’ to the kind of people who get arrested was no longer there.”
The 2017 match-day experience is different to that of 20 years ago, and Betham said the general attitude of fans has changed for the better.
“[There is] a change in attitude, it is one of enjoying the match and not going looking for a fight.”
Sixsmith agreed, citing the increased importance placed on the safety of travelling fans.
“You no longer fear wearing colours in an away town,” he said.
“The stadiums are more user friendly [and] it is safer and more civilised.
“The days of mass violence outside the ground have gone and the channelling of visiting fans straight to the stadium reduces the possibility of outbreaks of fighting.”
But when it comes to derby day, both fans agreed that it’s a different story.
“Once the derby games return, common sense will fly out of the window. Old habits die hard on both sides,” Sixsmith said.
“The rivalry… makes the game day experience a little nervy as you don’t know how either side will react,” Betham said.
Newcastle and Sunderland haven’t played since March 2016.
The Sunderland City Council said they are firmly focused on public safety.
“The City Council works closely with many public sector and private organisations, such as the police and Sunderland AFC, in ensuring that our city is safe for residents and visitors at all times of the day and night,” a council spokesperson said.
A separate Freedom of Information request has revealed that nearby club, Middlesbrough FC, had a similar number of arrests in the same time period.
But unlike Newcastle and Sunderland, Middlesbrough had an increase in arrests.
In their 2015/16 Football League Championship campaign, 39 arrests were recorded at both home and away games. In their 2016/17 Premier League campaign, 41 arrests were recorded at home and away games.
Robert Nichols, from local fanzine Fly Me To The Moon, isn’t surprised by the increase.
“The numbers have received a lot of publicity in the media,” he said.
But by the same token, he doesn’t see why fans should be worried on match days.
“It is a very small increase, and when the stats concern away as well as home games and anyone arrested for any offence anywhere in the vicinity of the stadium, then it makes it difficult to know if there is any kind of trend.
“Obviously any arrest is one arrest too many… I would imagine over a season though this number of 41 is dwarfed compared to the number of arrests on a Saturday night out, not that that is something to shout about.
“I just feel it needs to be put into context.”
Cleveland Police’s Dedicated Football Officer, Jamie Smith, said the Police have a good relationship with Middlesbrough supporters.
“In Cleveland, we have much fewer resources but our officers engage with supporters as much as possible and we have a good rapport with them.”
He also said this relationship with fans keeps the numbers of arrests down.
“Fans know that they will be banned from attending football matches if they are arrested and this could contribute towards the low number of arrests we have.”