Manchester City are set to meet the 60 year old fan who finds himself at the centre of a storm that threatens to jeopardize the extensive supporter engagement efforts made by the club since ownership changed hands just over three years ago.
The club will hope that an investigation into the ejection of an older fan, at the match against Aston Villa on Saturday 15th October, will help to calm tensions around the perimeter of the singing sections at the Etihad stadium ahead of the next home game against Wolves on Saturday 29th October.
Mario Balotelli scored a fantastic opener in Manchester City's match against Aston Villa , only for events off-the-pitch in the East Stand at the Etihad Stadium to interrupt the flow of play shortly afterwards.
For it was shortly after the goal was scored that stewards, working for the stewarding company Showsec, took the decision to eject a 60 year old man in line with the club's policy on persistent standing.
In a heartbeat, one older supporter found himself at the centre of a growing tension between supporters and stewards that has its roots in Manchester City's well-intentioned attempts to improve the atmosphere at the stadium through the creation of a singing section.
Shocking YouTube video footage appears to show that it was the actions of one steward in particular that triggered the emotional reaction of surrounding supporters who rallied to the older fan's cause.
NB: This video contains strong language and is not suitable for viewing by minors or in an office environment
After the decision is made to eject the older supporter, he is heard saying,”I've done nothing wrong, why are you screaming at me?” All whilst being man-handled by a policeman and a steward.
The video then becomes unclear due to the growing disturbance in the crowd. When the video returns to the suppporter he is then heard saying,“I take 5 tables a day for heart problems.”
Promptly after revealing his condition, a steward that appears to have been observing the incident from further away, decides to climb over several seats in an escalation of the incident that sees the older fan dragged away from his seat.
The video closes with a disturbing image of the man lying on the ground at the front of block 109, as police and stewards stand in a circle seemingly unsure of what to do next other than wait for medical staff to arrive.
In a statement sent to MCFCfans by Greater Manchester Police, Chief Superintendent Gerry Donnellan said: "Just before half time during the match between Manchester City and Aston Villa, club stewards and security requested the assistance of GMP as, in line with their rules, they were asking a man in the crowd to leave the ground because he refused to sit down.
"Officers only assist if there is a breach of the peace or if there is a likelihood of a breach of the peace occurring and in this case there was one; stewards were struggling with the man and other people in the crowd.
"The man was arrested on suspicion of causing a breach of the peace, but de-arrested when the breach of the peace had ceased.
"He was seen to collapse and paramedics attended, where he was given a clean bill of health.
"Two men were arrested on suspicion of common assault after incidents with stewards. One was later charged and one was given a Fixed Penalty Notice.
"The force's Professional Standards Branch has received a complaint from a third party and will respond in the appropriate fashion in due course."
At this stage it is not known who has lodged the complaint to the police following the incident. Based on anecdotal evidence, there are many possible complainants due to the fracas that took place as a result of the incident.
The incident requires a full and transparent investigation backed by the courage to act
The uproar after the incident was unprecedented in recent times at the club. The club, already engaged in a variety of other public relations matters, was deluged with letters and calls from irate supporters.
Immediately after the incident, MCFCfans called for an investigation into the matter that was picked up by the natiional press (Guardian article). The club promptly confirmed that an investigation would take place and communicating to MCFCfans issued this statement, “The Club have invited both the older fan and a FSF representative to discuss the matter in person and the meeting will take place in the coming days.”
The Football Supporters Federation, known for tirelessly following up incidents of this nature and in support of more vulnerable supporters, stated to MCFCfans,“We welcome the club’s decision to investigate the incident in Block 109 during the Aston Villa game and to interview the supporter involved. We would be happy to assist in that process in any way which would be helpful to the parties.”
MCFCfans understands that the older fan has accepted the offer of a FSF representative to be present at the meeting with the club, something that may go some way to re-assuring all supporters that a fair hearing will take place.
So far so good, and the club deserves to be given the opportunity to investigate the matter fully.
The incident raises many questions. The questions that are consistently raised by witnesses to the incident are:
- Why was an older, apparently vulnerable, fan chosen for ejection, whilst so many other fans standing around him and on the same row were also presumably eligible for ejection? What process is in place to decide who is ejected?
- Once the older fan had highlighted his heart condition, why was the incident escalated by the lone steward? What training and procedures are in place in such a situation to ensure that vulnerable fans with medical conditions are treated with care?
The investigation at the very least should provide re-assurance to supporters that there are processes in place, checks and balances, incident reviews, learning and re-training, governance that involves senior club officials outside the seemingly closed circle of stadium security and its contracted stewarding company Showsec.
In short, could the incident have been handled differently?
Showsec for their part confirmed that they are co-operating fully with the investigation involving their client Manchester City, but were unable to comment specifically on the details concerning the ejection.
Thoughts will turn to the long-term solutions...
The current investigation should rightly focus on the specific circumstances surrounding the older fan. But this is unlikely to solve the problem of block 109.
Peter Fletcher, the club's Stadium Security and Safety Manager, finds himself in the unenviable position of attempting to balance club policy, ground regulations, licensing laws, and supporter safety.
It doesn't take long perusing supporter forums to know that Mr.Fletcher is not altogether popular, in particular with fans seated in the singing areas and adjacent blocks.
But it was presumably him that gave his blessing to the singing sections in the first place. So does he now find himself in a no-win situation?
The club's statement went on to state, “More generally, whilst the Club has adopted a collaborative approach with fans wishing to stand in certain areas, it remains the case that persistent standing within Blocks 109 and 119, which border the singing section, remains contrary to the policy for this season, a fact which was clearly communicated by letter to supporters in those areas prior to the first game of the season.
The Club continually review policy and procedure across all areas, as is the case following this incident. We will also be seeking to gauge the views of fans adjacent to the singing stand in the coming days and weeks to assist with planning for next and future seasons."
The statement shows a genuine desire by the club to engage with supporters to find long-term solutions for the singing sections and areas around them.
The FSF, knowing the history behind block 109 can play a vital role and went on to confirm their involvement to MCFCfans, “We have arranged to meet the Club next month to discuss a range of issues related to standing at the Etihad Stadium and the Club’s approach to this. We welcome the Club’s willingness to meet and note that the introduction of the singing area is a more progressive approach to this issue than is the case at some other clubs. However, there are clearly issues to be addressed relating to the management of standing in adjacent areas.”
It could now be said that leadership by the club needs to be matched by leadership from the fans. The FSF can fill some of this role, but perhaps the club also needs to find other ways of bridging the gap between the 'men in suits' and the supporter in the stand by inviting willing volunteers and supporters representatives to the debate.
One fan in block 109 did take a lead recently when carrying out a survey of 100 fans in block 109. The survey revealed that 90% in the block wanted to stand/sing all game, 8% during moments of excitement, and 1.2% wanted to be seated.
Many supporters may say a conclusive result, but those who wish to be seated will still wish to be heard.
As far as all parties in the debate are concerned, actions will speak louder than words.
Is Safe Standing the future?
It's ironic that all of this should take place so recently after the Hillsbough debate in the House of Commons.
The FSF's Safe Standing campaign is one of the recognised national attempts to solve the wider issue, which in their words can be summarised as,”It is clear that many supporters have a strong desire to stand.” The campaign, officially supported by The Liberal Democrats, states, “The FSF believes that football supporters should have the choice to stand in a Safe Standing area, if they so wish. Stadiums would retain seated accommodation for those who wished to sit.”
Do you support Safe Standing?
What is your view on City's singing section and where it should be located?
And have you been impacted by the persisent standing policy?
Mario Balotelli scored a fantastic opener against Aston Villa on Saturday, only for the game to take a twist off the pitch that is only now becoming clear. As City looked to build on their 1-0 advantage, the flow on the pitch was lost as fans around the ground became concerned at events taking place in the East Stand
Speculation abounded in other parts of the Etihad stadium that a stray away fan may have been identified and held responsible for the activity, which prompted a number of stewards and police officers to surround block 109 in the East Stand.
Footage released on YouTube was the first shocking indication that the incident was actually completely avoidable. An older fan, complaining of a heart condition, appears to be singled out as part of the ongoing standing debate at the club.
The reaction of Manchester City and Showsec, the stewarding company, so far is alarming. The Manchester Evening News reported a City spokesman as saying, “A supporter who was persistently standing was politely asked to sit down by stewards, following complaints from supporters. After refusing to co-operate with the stewards, the police intervened to help eject the man.
"The man refused to leave, prompting a small number of surrounding supporters to become aggressive to both the stewards and the police. The man in question was evicted and a further two men were arrested for assault."
This response masks a much deeper suspicion that has angered fans as to the apparent singling out of an older, apparently vulnerable, City fan who has no doubt been a life-long supporter of the club through thick and thin.
Showsec have issued the following statement, “Showsec’s operational role at Manchester City Football Club falls within the club’s match day operation. In this instance we were directed by the club to eject a supporter for persistent standing, which contravenes the ground regulations and followed repeated complaints from other supporters in the area.
The ejection was carried out in line with the club’s policy and upon the gentleman’s refusal to leave the ground we requested the support of Greater Manchester Police in order complete the process. The company will continue to support the policies of the club and any eschewing investigations.”
This statement does at least confirm that it was the Club that sanctioned the ejection of this supporter.
So the following questions must be answered:
what was the process followed that led to the singling out of an older, vulnerable, fan from the ground when so many others in the block and in the away end were also standing? what records are kept of such decisions and what governance is in place to review them at board level?
what communications took place between the control room and the stewards in the block before, during, and after the incident, especially once the fan had advised his heart condition?
what investigations are now underway at the club in order to give all parties a fair hearing in this matter?
The Football Supporters Federation (FSF) confirmed to MCFCfans that they have been deluged with phone calls, e-mails, and contact from angry fans since the incident. The FSF chairman is now likely to take up an earlier offer to meet the club, and fans can provide Amanda Jacks, who deals with Policing & Stewarding with statements if they witnessed what happened (contact details avaialble on the FSF website here), anonymously if requested.,
We can only hope that the discontent generated by this shocking incident do not spill over into tomorrow evening with its special singing stand arrangements. With the world watching, all supporters would be well-advised to rise above it and enjoy the game tomorrow night in the knowledge that formal representations are clearly being made on behalf of the fans.