Wife of Mildenhall man, Cambridge United football fan Simon Dobbin, speaks about life-changing attack on him after game
- Credit: Archant
The wife of a Cambridge United fan who was almost killed following an unprovoked attack by football hooligans says their lives have changed forever.
Following the U’s game at Southend on March 21, Simon Dobbin, 43, from Mildenhall, and a small group of other supporters were assaulted in East Street, Southend, by a group of men who came out of nearby pub Railway Tavern.
Mr Dobbin was beaten up and suffered a cardiac arrest. It took seven minutes to get his heart going again, which has caused brain damage. He was placed in a medically induced coma and spent months at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridgeshire. He has since been transferred to a rehabilitation centre in Norwich.
Mr Dobbin can’t walk or communicate. For his family, it’s a waiting game to see to what extent his brain recovers.
In an interview with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Nicole Dobbin described the moment she was told about the attack on her husband.
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She said: “I was at work on a night shift - I work at a care home. At 11.30pm, one of the lads on the care side said I had two visitors. It didn’t seem like anything serious. I thought it was Simon and his friends after the football.
“It was two officers. They said Simon had been beaten up, suffered a cardiac arrest and was on life support.
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“I rushed home to get Emily and went to Southend. He had taken a beating to the right side of his face. It was so swollen. It was horrendous, like something you see in a movie, but never think will happen to yourself. It was a complete nightmare.
“He was kept in a coma for quite a while. We don’t know if he’ll walk again - he can’t move his legs.
“When he has his tracheotomy removed he may be able to speak to us. We miss his laughter - he was always laughing.
“But I think his personality is still there. We’re just waiting for it to come out.
“You do wonder what if he hadn’t of gone to the game, or driven there, but you can’t live with what ifs. We need to look to the future and make the most of it.
“Our lives changed completely, nothing is normal anymore. We don’t know what the future holds.
“Some days we see a change in him, others not. We had a very good life, we’ve still got a good life, but things are going to be so different.
“He can’t express his feelings. That’s what I find really hard. Hopefully we can give him the best future we possibly can.”
The care worker says she is determined to do whatever it takes to care for her husband, so he can live at home.
She said: “I’ve worked in care for over 20 years and I’m used to doing eight hour shifts and coming home. These are going to be permanent 24 hour shifts, but I love him so much I can do it. And if extra help is needed, I’ll get it.
“My aim is to become his carer and do whatever needs to be done to keep him at home.
“He’s missed so much - my birthday, his birthday, his football, Emily’s prom. That was hard. Emily got dressed up at the hospital so Simon could see her in her prom dress - he looked so proud. It was very emotional.”
She urged people to come forward and report hooligans, so that no one else has to endure Simon’s fate.
She said: “We would like witnesses to come forward. I would hate for anybody to go through what we have gone through as a family.
“They (hooligans) are just violent thugs. They need to realise what they can do to people. One blow to the head and a life is completely changed.”
Cambs Police work closely with Cambridge United and Peterborough United to target hooliganism. They are keen to stress it only involves a small minority of fans, normally at derby games.
Chief inspector Karen Newton said: “Fans to tend to go drinking in pubs before fixtures. We have football spotters to get information about what’s likely to happen and officers who gather intelligence from the community. We also do home visits with potential troublemakers. We listen to what the club says and are always working with people to try and dissuade them from getting involved.”
Inspector Steve Kerridge added: “It involves people from all walks of life - professionals, successful people running businesses, and younger people as well. These are the people we want to target to change their behaviour. It’s a very small minority.”
Peterborough United safety officer David Stent said: “Football is incredibly tribal. Unfortunately local derbies attract a few people who want to use it for an ulterior motive.
“But most grounds are incredibly safe within the footprint. Unfortunately, things happen away from the grounds these days.”
Cambridge United chairman Dave Doggett said: “In the 70s and 80s there was a definite culture in football, but not in 2015.
“In the last few years our crowds have increased dramatically and there are far more families. There is never a problem in the ground - we have CCTV and stewarding - but unfortunately away from the ground people do engage in anti-social behaviour which affects other people. This is not acceptable.
“We work closely with police and people can be banned from matches. The key is education. We have our soccer schools across Cambridgeshire and football can be used as a positive to get people to respect each other and grow into responsible adults.”
One of the key weapons for police in combating trouble-making fans is banning orders.
A football banning order is a civil order rather than a criminal sanction. Its purpose is to stop known hooligans causing trouble at football matches both home and abroad.
It can be used to ban a certain individual from attending football matches both home and abroad for a period of between two and 10 years.
Further than simply being banned from attending the matches individuals who are subject to football banning orders can also be banned from using public transport on match days and from visiting other potential violent “hotspots” such as town centres, certain pubs and bars.
The bans from public places will only be during potential risk periods before and following matches.
However, they are not welcomed by all fans. Some feel they are too severe. For instance, a fan who turns up at a game drunk can be banned from attending football matches for three years, even if they have not been violent.
Amanda Jacks, of the Football Supporters Federation, said: “Sometimes there are officers at the ground who perhaps see all football fans as a public order problem rather than ordinary decent people going to football matches.
“With many incidents, the style of policing and stewarding escalated the incident, rather than reducing it.
“If you have 500 fans gesticulating at opposition fans, that isn’t necessarily a precursor to violence.”