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Oxford United are in the third tier of English football, far from the Champions League. But their safety officer Ian Mixter had a point when he claimed in a talk at the UK Security Expo 2017 last week that Oxford were of Champions League standard in one way – their pioneering of a data-sharing system.
Professional Security saw the trial of Ox-Tales in November 2016, when we watched the stewarding for Oxford’s home match against near neighbours Coventry City (who have since been relegated). While to the average spectator it appeared a normal match, to the security and stewarding staff it was anything but, keeping the away and home fans apart, and managing a few of the angrier Coventry fans, who oppose the club’s owners, and whoa t some other matches have made high-profile protests.
The name Ox-Tales came from Ian Mixter, but the product is from Littoralis, a Brighton-based software firm that provides the data-sharing product DISC for business crime reduction partnerships. Football clubs and BCRPs have similar needs; they want to log reports of wrong-doing (shop theft for BCRPs, hooligans at clubs) and if necessary hand out and manage banning orders. Littoralis offered Oxford the product as a trial for the 2016-17 season. The local police force, Thames Valley, already knew Littoralis as used in some of the area’s shopping centres.
DISC went live at Oxford as Ox Tales: Supporting Safer Stadia for the first time at a home game with Peterborough United on August 26, 2016 (a 2-1 win for the home side). On day one it helped stewards identify a fan who had been made subject to an ABC [acceptable behaviour contract], to confirm that the ABC had not yet been signed (contrary to the assurances of the individual) and to require that the individual vacate the ground. The fan complied, and duly signed the ABC the next week.
The app uses 3G and 4G (or, if available, WiFi) for wide-area connectivity and, with 7,000-plus fans attending the Peterborough fixture, many using their phones, no contention issues were reported. Indeed, through the rest of the pilot project, no connectivity issues were ever reported, even at the largest attendance of the season when Oxford played the Checkatrade Trophy final with Coventry City (who won 2-1) at Wembley Stadium in April 2017 in front of 74,434 fans.
Littoralis stress their compliance with the Data Protection Act (and the General Data Protection Directive which will come into force in May 2018). The software firm points out that the product has applications beyond football and even sports stadiums, to festivals and other events; the sharing can be of ‘alerts’ across multiple DISC systems to security and safety staff, for example to publicise counterfeit tickets, ticket touts, travelling groups selling counterfeit or stolen goods inside and outside grounds, new offensive weapons and methods of concealment, and betting scams.
For more, see a case study on the Littoralis website.
Ian Mixter and Oxford United also featured in the February 2017 print issue of Professional Security, for the stewarding and security operation for a typical Saturday afternoon league match.
Photo by Mark Rowe; turnstiles, Kassam Stadium, Oxford United FC.