FOOTBALL spotters are warning troublemakers they are being watched as the U’s return to the league gets under way.

Forty two police officers from Oxford and High Wycombe were out in force last Saturday for Oxford United’s away game against Wycombe Wanderers.

The Oxford Mail went to the Adams Park game – classified as “medium risk” by officers – to learn how football matches are policed and how officers keep fans under control.

Pc Paul Phillips, who works with the homeless in the city centre during the week, has 26 years’ experience policing U’s matches – clear from the number of fans he now regards as firm friends.

Football spotters keep watch for trouble at football matches, but also patrol watering holes and potential flashpoints before and after the game.

He said: “What we are there for is to gather intelligence.

“By working the matches as regularly as we can, we can identify any behaviour issues amongst them and pick up on any intelligence or information from any hooligan groups or general supporters, who have heard something in the pub.

“We are only as good as what we know and what we hear.”

Pc Phillips said he tried to build up a rapport with fans as he patrolled the ground and pubs.

“Sometimes you go into a pub and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and they don’t want to talk to you.

“But on Saturday, there were no issues where we felt the supporters didn’t want us there.”

Evidence gatherers, including Pc Russ Clark, and Pc Steve Smith, record footage of the crowd, taking photos of anyone looking like they are causing trouble.

Problems include racist chanting, throwing objects on the pitch, swearing and abusing stewards, and in extreme occasions, fights and pitch invasions.

Pc Phillips is not expecting an increase in trouble now the team is back in the league, and said disorder was always expected during local derbies.

He said: “In preparation for all the matches, we will be holding meetings with the clubs to ensure we have the appropriate resources available to deal with any issues which might arise.”

Weather, referee decisions and even the number of seats available can affect how fans behave at a match, he said.

Eleven Oxford United fans are banned from games for causing trouble, and 13 others are on bail for other football-related offences.

Pc Phillips said: “There is a small hooligan element attached to the club, but every club has got an element of that.”

John Jones, 37, of Witney, who admitted he had caused trouble in the past, said: “We know all the officers now from years of going to football; we know when we are in the wrong. It’s nice to have some banter with them.”

Tom Truby, 24, of St John’s Drive, Carterton, said: “I think the policing at games is very well done.”