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What does the country?s favourite football cop do when there are no matches to police? PC Paul Elliott?s fan-friendly Twitter feed has made him a favourite among football supporters. He tells Police Oracle about his love of the game and how his job suddenly changed.
Published - 28/03/2020 By - Chris Smith

PC Elliott is the designated Football Officer for second-tier Preston North End, a role he has been a big part of his life since 2006.

His work has been singled out for best practice by security experts, the football industry, police leaders and communications professionals.

So what happens for the Lancashire Police officer when all the games are cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak?  

He tells Police Oracle: “With what I do, I sit within the department of tactical operations. At the moment I’m overseeing our vehicles, making sure they have the correct kit in terms of PPE. If required, I’ll be joining operational policing.”

It’s a far cry from a month ago. It was business as usual, then calls for matches to be played behind closed doors and then after players and a manager became ill, the season was halted. Games were delayed until 4 April and then indefinitely.

PC Elliott explains what happened next: “There’s a lot of planning prior to the games; three assessments before and then one after for the UK Football Unit. In the first week after the games were postponed, it was a bit of tidying up ready for when games resumed.

“We were going to lose three games so I had to reassess them. I’ve been kept busy,” he says.

But he hasn’t neglected his 10,000 followers on social media who suddenly have time on their hands.

“I’ve got an array of photos I’ve collected of football stadiums; I think they are the real heart and soul of the community. So I do a community quiz and do a question on the picture of the stadium. I try to take people’s minds off of what’s going on – we need a little release as it’s all become a little intense.”

His rise to social media success began after he was asked to add social media to his duties to get key messages out. As an Everton supporter since 1976, he knew the culture of UK football fans and decided to engage with them using that knowledge to be visible in the online community.

PC Elliott says: “When we were told we were going to have to run a football account, I said to bosses ‘I know what I like to follow as a football fan. If it’s me doing it, I’m not very corporate’. People don’t want to see corporate messages: they don’t want to be patronised.

“Fair play to the bosses at Lancashire; they said ‘you run it how you want to run it’. There’s nothing worse than pumping out information but refusing to open up to criticism or questions.

He is clear about who his audience is and that he will be his “authentic self” on social media.

“Most fans wouldn’t know their club had a dedicated football officer. Fans do get a bit of a bad rap but 99.9% of them love their team and love the community spirit. They’re the people we need to engage with.”

That doesn’t mean he is an idealist but he believes other clubs can learn from Preston North End: “Yes, sometimes a very small number of people will have a fight: yes it is part of it but there’s very rarely any violence so let’s appeal to the wider community.”

His work on social media helped develop contacts with fans and led to a less aggressive approach to match day policing. And that has resulted in a big win for the club. Among the accolades, the club has won Away Day of the Year from the Football Association based on feedback from visiting supporters.

He adds: It’s changed the whole ethos of the way we police football. People are coming to a place that’s welcoming and friendly. Preston is a very welcoming place. On a match day, every pub is open to members of the public. Yes, part of it is how you police it – but if it’s done right then everything else just falls into place.”

He has plans ready for when the games begin again but PC Elliott also believes that when the current emergency is over, the rest of the country can learn from the football community.

He says: “When we get through all of this – which we will – we need to get back to the way we were. I think what’s missing from society recently has been that community cohesion. I think we’ve lost a lot of feeling part of a community.”

PC Elliott explains: “The football community will always bring people together when they need something – you see people to come together for all sorts of causes. If one good thing can come from this awful situation it’s that we all have to pull together and look after each other. We’ve become a more selfish society. Everyone is busy with their own lives. A lot of people go home and shut the door.”

He adds: “Football is an escape from that for me. It’s nice doing this to be able to remind people we do have that community. We just need to stick together.”

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