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'Enjoy the passion of the game - or risk being banned': Police message ahead of Sunderland vs Coventry as seven forced to sit out the match
22 Nov | 11:05

An investigation, code-named Operation Darwin, was launched following the disorder which broke out after April's corresponding fixture

Football fans have been urged to enjoy the passion of the game – or risk being banned from cheering on their team.

Northumbria Police are gearing up towards Sunderland’s crunch match against Coventry City on Saturday with more than 30,000 supporters expected to come through the turnstiles.

But as the team prepares for the eagerly-anticipated League One fixture, a top cop has revealed seven people have been banned from setting foot in the Stadium of Light following their bad behaviour in April’s corresponding fixture.

The troublemakers have all been convicted of public order offences following the Black Cats’ 5-4 defeat to Coventry on April 13, which was marred by disorder both inside and outside the ground.

Following a police investigation, those found to have been involved have all received football banning orders lasting a combined total of more than 20 years – and a number of others are to appear before the courts over the coming months.

Now, ahead of this weekend’s fixture, Chief Superintendent Sarah Pitt has called on fans to get behind their respective team – but warned any disorder on the day will be dealt with robustly.

“We enjoy a fantastic relationship with football fans across the North East who are some of the most passionate fans anywhere in the country,” Chief Supt Pitt said.

“But when passions are high, as was the case in this particular fixture last season, a small minority of fans can get caught up in disorder and ruin the spectacle for others.

“We know this is a game that many supporters are looking forward to, and a visible policing presence will be seen both in the city centre and at the Stadium of Light to ensure those going to the match can enjoy it in a safe and hassle-free manner.

“The safety of spectators and families out in the city centre is paramount, and as a result, we do not apologise for our zero-tolerance approach to violence and match-day disorder.

“Our message is clear to anybody who is thinking of causing trouble on Saturday – you will be arrested, you will face criminal action and you may find yourself facing very serious consequences, including a custodial sentence and a banning order.

“We would like to remind fans that banning orders not only prevent you from watching any regulated football match in the UK for a fixed period, but they can also affect your future career prospects as they may be disclosed to potential employers through a vetting process or DBS check.”

A police investigation, named Operation Darwin, was launched in the aftermath of the game between Sunderland and Coventry at the end of last season.

Since then, seven people have been handed football banning orders which forbid them from attending any regulated football match in the UK until 2024, which includes Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two and National League fixtures, as well as England home internationals.

The banning order also prevents them from travelling abroad to watch international friendlies, qualification matches and tournaments.

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