The bubble has finally burst. While it may not have the same global impact as the economic, dotcom or housing versions, for supporters of Chester and Wrexham, the ramifications are seismic.
After four long seasons of so-called ‘safe transport’ fixtures, where away fans were corralled onto a convoy of compulsory coaches and painstakingly delivered from one stadium to the other, they will now be free to attend the derby game at their leisure without the presumption of criminality.
The decision is the result of extended negotiations between all parties on both sides of the border, and is to be welcomed with open arms, if only to stop the more hard-line boycotters from bleating on about their precious civil liberties. As a Chester fan who has been in the bubble on all four occasions, it comes as a blessed relief.
Whereas it has been an infuriating inconvenience for local supporters, for those of us who live in the sunny south-east – where the streets are paved with gold, or silver at least – it has frankly been a massive ball ache, a litany of stopovers, early starts and service station Scotch egg breakfasts.
As a football fan, the pre-match build-up is often all you’ve got. That blissful period of hope when the beer and conversation flows, before the game itself interrupts the day like a gash of despair, prompting the more downbeat post-match recriminations.
To spend those sacred hours stuck on a slow-moving coach, often separated from your friends, and then be bundled into the ground by a Robocop tribute act – it’s hardly surprising that attendances have plummeted since the restrictions were introduced.
To add insult to injury, in the last couple of seasons we have been disgorged from the coaches at the Racecourse, spitting feathers, only to find an alcohol ban in place. Like it or not, we are a nation in thrall to this popular legal drug, and it is a key part of the match-day experience. Conventionally, an alcohol ban exists to prevent rival fans from becoming violent towards each other, surely a superfluous measure in a bubble fixture with no possibility of them meeting. See also the kick-off times, which have followed a seemingly random pattern, except of course when BT Sport threw a few quid into the mix for live coverage. With zero contact between fans, there’s no real reason why a bubble game couldn’t have been played in the traditional slot of 3pm on Boxing Day – I imagine the Old Bill would have welcomed the overtime.
What’s even more confusing is that the first non-bubble fixture, at Chester’s Deva Stadium, has been moved from a Saturday afternoon to a Friday night, in November.
I’m no expert, but surely it is easier to police a thousand marauding Welshmen if you can actually see them.
And I’m not suggesting that nobody in Wrexham has a job, but it’s not hard to envisage a few boys clocking off from the pit early doors to spend six hours in Wetherspoons before jumping on the train to England.
There has been a naive suggestion that supporters will behave because the game coincides with remembrance weekend. A nice idea, but worth remembering that Chester and Wrexham fans once fought on the pitch at a charity match a matter of seconds after a minute’s silence for the Bradford fire.
There’s also the perennial threat of the return of the bubble, but the problem there is that you’re attempting to reason with the unreasonable. By default, anyone who physically attacks somebody for supporting a different football club has a skewed moral compass that is unlikely to be realigned by the possibility of jeopardising the future travel plans of fellow supporters.
The stark reality is that the bubble was a ludicrous over-reaction that should never have been introduced. The authorities have painted themselves into a corner and now face the possibility of four seasons of impotent rage spilling over as a tiny Clone Island-clad minority on either side of the border seize what they see as a one-off opportunity to roll back the years and indulge in a bit of historical re-enactment.
I sincerely hope that I’m wrong. If only to avoid that Scotch egg breakfast.