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SIR Alex Ferguson engaged an open war of words with the Superintendent of Wolverhampton police last week, enraged at comments about Wayne Rooney.
It was claimed that if Rooney had acted like he did in the match against West Ham, when he swore at Sky TV cameras, for which he as received a two match ban, in Wolverhampton at night he would have been arrested.
Ben Miles headed out into the city centre on Saturday night to see what the police were up against in the West Midlands.
It was quiet in the city centre when we arrived at 10.30pm outside Oceana, by far the biggest club in Wolverhampton, but there was already a noticeable police presence awaiting the night’s activities.
Pretty soon people started to arrive at the club, having started off drinking elsewhere. The air suddenly wreaked of overused cologne and conversational volume was suddenly pegged at a loud shriek.
Chatting with a police officer, who was beginning his shift outside the club, and wanted to remain anonymous, we heard how Wolverhampton was much like any other city on a Saturday night.
“It does kick off every now and then, but so does any city,” he said. “It’s often quite quiet all night, but when you have alcohol around there’s always a chance something will happen.”
The revelers continued to arrive in steady dribs and drabs for the next hour and we headed off to look at the rest of the Wolverhampton nightlife.
It had been a hot day on Saturday, and there was a football match at Molineux that day. However there was little to be celebrating for the city after Wolves had gone down to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Everton.
As we walked through the quiet city centre the only signs of rowdy behaviour were the odd football fan, chanting at the top of his voice amongst mates, but directing it at empty buildings.
I spoke to Steve Osbourne, who runs a burger van in the city centre at night. The 46-year-old has been working the night shift in the town for over a decade and has seen a lot change over the years.
“It used to be terrible around here,” Steve said, while serving an excitable girl her cheeseburger. “You got a lot of gang violence until a few years ago, I was genuinely scared back then on Saturday nights about what would happen to me.
“That all changed when the police started putting more officers out at night. They look after the area really well. Sure there’s the odd fight around but that’s happens everywhere.
“They’ve made you feel safe to come into the centre on a Saturday night now.”
By midnight the area around some of the city’s most popular bars was getting much busier. The locals were keeping themselves to themselves, having a good night out in a British city.
Some were more drunk than others, but the only hassle around was drunk girls asking our photographer, Matt, if he would take their picture.
23-year-old John Yeates, who regularly goes out in Wolverhampton, said it wasn’t a rowdy place at night.
“There’s not much going on in terms of violence to be honest,” he said. “You can see the police crawling all over the city, so you have to be really tanked up or just plain stupid to kick off.”
Police still had a heavy presence around by midnight, but they were engaging with those on a night out in the city. Building tensions were quickly diffused with a calming hand on the shoulder and a quick chat.
Another officer, known to his colleagues as Robbo, but who preferred not to give his full name, said he felt the raised police presence was the reason for the lack of trouble.
“It’s got much, much better around here since we decided to start putting more officers on the street,” he said, after leading away a distraught girl who’s boyfriend had just ended their relationship.
“We just do our best to keep an eye on everything, make sure nothing gets out of hand.”
At that moment a shout went up nearby and the officers ran to see what was going on. A man in his 20s had thrown up in the entrance way to a busy restaraut and his rowdy friend was simulating a sex act with a traffic cone.
They were moved on quickly and the only signs of tension around were people asking why Matt was taking pictures.
Then, just as Fergy’s question ” Do police ever arrest anyone for swearing on a Saturday night?” was starting to loom large the tension in the area went through the roof.
A man had been refused entry into Revolution, another of Wolverhampton’s busy nightspots, and was making a scene about it, his friends trying to lead him away.
Policemen went over to try and calm the situation, only to be on the end of a barrage of abuse.
“Who the f*****g hell are you?” chanted the man, who had been seen around the city earlier, stumbling around obviously drunk, wearing a tight fitting T-shirt to show off the fact that the gym was obviously more home to him than the library.
“**** off, just **** off,” he continued, with a friend trying to lead him away, as an officer tried to reason with him.
“I’d f*****g have you I would, I could f******g kick your head in right now, easy, just f**k off,” he continued.
After a few minutes, and a warning about his conduct from the police the man was hauled away by his friends, with a girl imploring with the officers to let him go. “He doesn’t mean it, please let him go,” she pleaded.
Just when the night seemed to have returned to normal, and possibly with Superintendent Mark Payne’s words that “If Rooney had behaved like that on a Saturday night, I’d have expected my officers to lock him up.” close in the back of the police’s minds, the man decided to kick off again.
Shouting and swearing angrily he had stopped a short distance down the road and decided he hadn’t finished with the police yet.
Realising he was not going to calm down the police decided enough was enough. A nearby van sped over to the scene, and a group of six police wrestled the man into custody, much to the delight of passers by.
“Lock him up,” shouted one man, who ran away after the shout, clinging to his late night pizza.
“Give em’ hell mate,” shouted another, backing up the man, who by now was in cuffs. His supporter then turned towards me. “What the f*** are you looking at, f*** off,” he said, before zig-zagging off into the night.
With the scuffle over. The man was into the police van and it sped off as he looked forward to a night sobering up in the cells.
The words of Superintendent Payne ““I have seen a thousand Rooneys, and I am sure most police officers will have.
“The same aggressive stance, the bulging eyes, the foul-mouthed rant, fists clenched, surrounded by his mates, all cheering him on.
Suddenly seemed very true. The man had followed the pattern, big man, trying to win by swearing at his opposition.
It seemed that Superintendent Payne, described by Fergy as “A wee guy, sitting down there in the Midlands, probably never been recognised in his life,” was right, his officers would see thousands of Rooney’s every night, and some of them would get arrested.
The police are winning the battle here against public disorder, but with high-profile public figures like Sir Alex Ferguson deriding them for speaking out the battle could start to get tougher.