You may remember that MOMS announced the Virgin Train 20% discount initiative for all Aston Villa Season Card Holders and Claret Members (it works – I tested it over Christmas), which was a very welcome move by the train company and club in both helping Villa away fans with the cost of travel and providing a real benefit of Villa ‘membership’.
It seems that Virgin trains are on the front foot to address issues with football supporters travelling by train and one of the issues that continues to plague train operators is the behaviour of some fans on services.
In the first five months of 2018, the British Transport Police (BTP) recorded more than 330 football-related incidents on railways. As reported in The Times recently, the majority were classed as “disorderly behaviour” including racist, homophobic and sexist behaviour, with ‘assault, affray and harassment’ also common.
Considering the thousands of football fans that travel by train, it must be stressed that this is a low percentage.
Naturally, there’s the general rowdiness of football supporters going to and from matches, and it seems Virgin Trains trains have identified the merit of dedicated carriages for football fans. Not only to make sure other passengers aren’t disturbed as much, but to also provide a more tailored service to the match-going football fan.
‘Better Environment’ for Fans
As reported in The Times, Gary Steele, of Virgin Trains, said that “providing a better environment” for fans would cut conflict and that it would have “bespoke catering packages” for supporters and prioritise the largest trains for match days.
Also, it would warn customers booking online if their train was likely to be busy with fans. This is a particularly welcome common sense move, as communication to those potentially effected is often forgotten about in the world of football from MOMS experience over the years.
Naturally, it’s important to make such moves more progressive than the Saturday Specials back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The dedicated and heavily policed trains were synonymous with football hooligan culture back in the day and indeed several footballing firms took their names from them – like the Inter City Firm of West Ham.
These trains were essentially the oldest and most basic carriages they had – essentially, cattle carriages, so to speak. Obviously, one of the issues back in the day was if you treat football fans as animals, you’re only going to get the behaviour of animals.
Virgin Trains, whose InterCity West Coast franchise service covers 16 clubs, had said reviving exclusive charted trains for football fans was hampered by a lack of spare carriages, so having designated carriages on existing services is a suitable compromise.
Virgin Trains will also deploy staff with conflict-resolution training on match days. They will wear pink high-visibility vests, a colour which the company say has a calming effect on crowds – well, I supposed yellow high-vis is synonymous with the police.
Chief Superintendent Allan Gregory, of British Transport Police, said: “This is an important step in helping to improve the experience of football supporters and other rail passengers.”
Considering some of the feedback at the last Football Supporters Federation (FSF) meeting MOMS attended, this if executed properly is an example of good practice that others should follow.
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