Tuesday 22 March 2016 17:24, UK
Leicestershire Police are already preparing for Champions League football at Leicester City's King Power Stadium next season.
The Foxes are five points clear at the top of the Premier League table with seven games remaining and they look certainties to finish in the top four, with a 16-point gap back to West Ham in fifth place.
Another nine points will secure Champions League football next season, although manager Claudio Ranieri will not engage in discussions about "what if" and the message is clear, and unanimous, from everyone at Leicester City: one game at a time, we haven't won anything yet.
But, despite Ranieri's caution, Leicestershire Police are making plans for the visit of some of the biggest teams in Europe to the King Power Stadium.
"We don't want to jinx anything," said Assistant Chief Constable Phil Kay. "But if things carry on as they have been doing, Champions League football isn't far away. And having not policed a European game since 2000, when Leicester hosted UEFA Cup football, we need to be prepared.
"I kind of predicted this last October. It would be fantastic if they can win the title, and I think they will.
"And whilst I don't want to pre-empt anything, I couldn't wait until they'd won the title for us to start doing our preparation, because by that time all the European games will be over for the season. So we had to talk to the club now, begin preparing now, and I don't think that time will be wasted."
In fact, the officers in charge of policing Leicester's home games, headed by Kay, were in north London to shadow the Metropolitan Police when Arsenal played Barcelona last month, and they worked alongside Greater Manchester Police at the Etihad Stadium last week, when Manchester City hosted Dynamo Kiev.
"It was a really useful learning exercise," Kay added. "The idea is just to better understand the different dynamic when an English team plays European opposition.
"Clearly there's a language barrier, and so we've sent a request to our staff here internally to see how many of them speak different European languages; there's a dynamic around UEFA, who tend to come in and take over the whole stadium for a few days around the game - that's an experience we had when we hosted the Rugby World Cup at the King Power Stadium.
"There's also a bit we've learned about the nature of the behaviour of supporters from different countries. So, Spanish supporters tend not to travel in big numbers, and if Leicester draw a Spanish team the away support may well be made up mostly of English-based Spaniards. If we get Bayern Munich, for example, which is a possibility, we might have 4,000-5,000 supporters who will be here for the whole day, and want to march up to the ground together.
"Then if we get a Polish team, that'll be a different dynamic again, because we have a big Polish population here. It's about looking at the nationality and culture of the country's fans who will be coming here, and trying to pre-empt and understand the advantages and challenges that that brings."
Kay cannot reveal any specifics about their policing plan, which is operationally sensitive but he says Leicester supporters will not notice much difference.
"Largely, we will police it in the same way as a Premier League game," he said. "We will be very welcoming, we want people to be safe, have a great time and to leave here with a great impression of Leicester City, the city and Leicestershire Police."
Home games this season have been easier than ever to control, according to Kay, because of the buoyant mood around the stadium.
He said: "The atmosphere has been fantastic. When they scored a late goal against Norwich, I think Sky reported that there had been a minor earthquake as a result of the celebrations.
"Clearly, it depends on the dynamic with opposition supporters. But Leicester City is a good club to police, our relationship with the club and fans is very positive. We've had very few incidents this season, and we tend to find, unsurprisingly, that when the team is playing well and winning, fans tend to go home happy."
Kay also believes that Leicester's owners should be given a lot of credit for the club's success, and the mood around the stadium.
"The club and the owners have a great relationship with the fans," he added. "They've given them all free clappers, free crisps, free beer - it's absolutely fantastic.
"So that feel-good factor isn't just around the club - it's around the city, the county and indeed our own organisation [Leics Police] where people are just so pleased to see Leicester City doing so well."