The perception gap

There are twelve of them. Photographs of men involved in what the Police now euphemistically call “violent scenes” but we used to call football hooliganism. The Police are quick to point out that these are a tiny minority.

At Sincil Bank on Saturday reporters from the Lincolnshire Echo were bedded in with Police, covering the game between Lincoln City and the Bantams.

The fact that the Police are deployed in such huge numbers for lower league games is a matter of some controversy – the majority of the time they are tasked with little more than answering the odd question about which end might be the away end – but on Saturday they had work to do in the away end.

Early on in the game a section of City fans are abusing the linesman and the “banter” started over the top and got worse. I feel culpable – I worry that my criticism of linesman leads to someone else abusing which leads to someone else attacking – but I want no part of the homophobia which is being poured at the official who seems to get his own back keeping a flag down when Omar Daley is fouled and when Gareth Evans is shoved in the back leading to the home side’s first goal.

One wonders where the Police are, where the stewards are, in this situation. Were the abuse racial and not homophobic then without a doubt there would be more of an imperative for them to be involved – when was the last time a club put out a message about kicking homophobia out of football? – and would we want stewards and Police coming over and telling fans what they can and cannot say?

Eventually the stewards come to the men as they advance forward towards the side of the pitch with a message of calming down. The abuse simmers down which perhaps is credit to the softly softly approach of the stewards.

This is put to a test in the second half when a single fan starts an aggressive chant about T&A writer Simon Parker. He is allowed to continue to the bafflement of some and the amusement of others. What Parker must have thought about that one can only guess but for a moment it is worth contemplating that these two individuals – the linesman and the writer – are both the target of abuse that is treated differently in different contexts. Neither seems right, but for different reasons.

A third incident is more testing for the Police and the stewards. A young lad dressed in the traditional Chav uniform of Burberry scarf and cap is on the phone at the front and then ten minutes later is causing problems at the back, shouting at the home fans, turning heads in the crowd. Soon men in florescent jackets are running to the scene.

Incidents like this are difficult to report. Every view has a different take on events. BfB’s Jason McKeown gives one view as he looks down on events and details some, other fans see it and a patchwork of reports give an impression. Sincere apologies if it is factually incorrect, it is the recollections of a number of people.

The lad in Burberry is tackled by a half dozen stewards and is dragged across the front of the away fans – half way up the stand – to be ejected from the ground. Another lad has his legs outstretched and a steward trips over them. There is a flashpoint with the steward thinking he has been tripped and the innocent fan taking what is described as a punch. None of this can be seen by most of the crowd although the spill out afterwards can but before the day is done the version of events which is correlated here has done the rounds of City fan’s mobile phones. It is impossible to say if it is true or not but it is certainly what is being talked about.

The fan is innocent and as a result scuffling has broken out between stewards and supporters. It is a worrying flashpoint with six Stewards having inadvisedly got into the middle of a group of fans and seemingly – probably to regret – gone on the attack. The men at the front have turned attentions away from the lines man and one tugs his scarf over his face to cover his mouth and nose, the disguise favoured by the hooligan of old.

No one seems to know what has happened to the guy with his legs outstretched, or the Chav, but rumours in the following days have it afterwards he went to the Police to report the actions of the steward.

The incident calms down eventually but not before Radio Leeds have mistaken a “You don’t know what your doing” chant aimed at the steward as one aimed at McCall following a substitution. Attention turns back to the pitch and when the game ends and within minutes fans of Lincoln and Bradford City are walking next to each other away from the ground.

The point?

Take a look again at the photographs of men in Manchester. Image three, image four, image six, image eleven. Not the faces of young men yet there is a perception that the only problems at football are caused by people under a certain age. That football hooliganism is back in a younger generation having been purged from the old.

The veracity of this I’d question. As with the photographs from Manchester within the Bradford City fans who shouted abuse in these three incidents there is no age barrier in people involved in events that cause interest and perhaps the difference comes how the problems are handled by Police and Stewards.

Perhaps it is a perception that only the younger fans cause trouble worth addressing or perhaps they see it easier for Stewards to tackle young lads than it is people forty plus who are doing the same.

An ugly victory as Hereford United fans get the wrong kind of Bradford welcome

It was a long way back home¬† – 180 miles to be precise – for the 176 Hereford supporters at Valley Parade on Saturday, but for many it will not have been Gareth Evans’ 41st minute strike and subsequent celebration in front of them which will have provided the lasting impression of a disappointing day.

The welcome some received from the people of Bradford could be fairly summed up as ugly, with stories of heavy-handed stewarding and a gang of teenagers punching and spitting on supporters outside the ground at the end.  Small and trivial these incidents may be considered in the context of the history of poor stewarding and hooliganism, but little consolation for the few on the receiving end.

It was midway through the second half that attention was diverted from a reasonably entertaining League Two encounter to the block of the Midland Road stand which housed Hereford supporters. Without knowing what was happening, it was clear stewards were dragging out a small handful of supporters in the most heavy-handed of manners. A Bulls visitor to Claret and Banter claims the stewards began throwing out supporters for persistently standing. When these fans quite reasonably argued that home supporters in other parts of the ground were also standing, they were apparently removed for questioning the stewards’ authority.

Meanwhile the photo evidence of a young supporter appearing to be forcibly removed reflects badly on the the people charged with home and away supporters’ welfare and some questions should be raised by those with the power to ask them at Valley Parade this week. At numerous City away games in recent years, stewards have attempted to force City fans to sit down; but the larger number of away fans make it next to impossible to enforce and efforts are usually quickly abandoned. Were these Hereford fans penalised for supporting a small club?

As the skirmishes ended, the reaction of City fans in the Bradford End was hardly commendable either. Aside from strong rivalries, banter between sets of fans at games is generally good natured and fun for both. The same Hereford fan who left a message on Claret and Banter claims home supporters initiated slit throat gestures towards them, while the choice and tone of the chanting towards them came across as unnecessarily threatening. Such anger might be understood, if not excused, were it directed towards Leeds, Huddersfield and Burnley fans, or even if the visitors were leading. The Hereford fans had done nothing to warrant this humourlessly-bile form of chanting.

And then outside after the game it got worse. Walking along Midland Road after home games all season, it’s been noticeable that gangs of teenagers have begun congregating on street corners in the hope something might “kick off”. A small mini bus for Hereford fans was positioned close to the away turnstiles, with one steward stood talking to them. I’d begun to walk past and towards my car, so didn’t get the best of views, but within minutes this group of Hereford supporters were surrounded by a gang of teenagers and fighting broke out. Those nearer claim a female supporter was punched while another female was spat at. Other Hereford fans tried to defend their own and the steward looked helpless. Eventually more stewards arrived to help and two police vans pulled up, with the group of teenagers fleeing up the hill towards Manningham Lane and hiding within the grounds of the nearby Mosque. A long journey home for Hereford fans must have felt significantly longer.

And as they departed so to did a bit of the club’s reputation. “Going to Bradford away? Watch yourself, I’ve heard the stewards are violent and home supporters ambush you outside the ground at the end,” is the kind of story which travels fast among rival fans. After the match City manager Stuart McCall had spoken of his frustration that, mid-way through the first half, a supporter within his earshot had barracked the players with the words “come on, we’re only playing Hereford,” but in this situation “only Hereford” is an important point. Perhaps these cowardly fans who attacked visiting supporters will steer clear when the likes of Rochdale and Rotherham come to Valley Parade, as they will bring sizeable numbers of fans which are likely to include plenty willing to get involved with a fight.

Next Saturday City travel to Macclesfield, a fixture I’ve been looking forward to for weeks due to the warm welcome I’ve received from friendly Silkmen fans on my previous two visits. Luton and Chesterfield aside, that’s usually the norm wherever you go in League Two and, for the majority of well-behaved City fans, it’s part of the enjoyment. What a shame that, thanks to the minority, there are now less people who will consider a trip to Bradford anything but ugly.