Thursday, May 03, 2012

FC United of Manchester-A Statement

The board of FC United have now issued a full statement to fans about the fiasco caused this week by West Yorkshire Police and Bradford City Council. I will add my two penneth in after the statement:

Board member Alan Hargrave attended a meeting in Bradford on Monday afternoon on behalf of FC United. Initially we were not invited to this meeting but a post Chorley 2011 edict from the league requires both clubs to be in attendance when match arrangements are being discussed.

This allows us, as we always do, to make representations on behalf of our supporters at an early stage but does not in any way give us control over decisions, which remain the privilege of the home team. Also present at the meeting were representatives of:

BPA - Safety Officer
Bradford City Council Licensing
West Yorkshire Police
League Management

The following key points were raised at this initial meeting:

The police would be busy on Saturday with a number of events in the town including the Bradford City game. However they were happy for the game to kick off at 3pm on Saturday.

The local authority licensing rep expressed a number of concerns having attended previous fixtures between Bradford and FCUM. Firstly that she had witnessed fans entering the running track area from the seating area during the games. Secondly she was concerned that the aisles in the seating areas were blocked and stewards had been unable to enter the seating area to remove lit flares and smoke bombs. She also noted that despite appeals from FCUM the use of smoke bombs and flares had again taken place at the recent semi final. As a consequence she initially wanted to set a capacity for the final at 1200.

AH questioned how a ground with a safety certificate capacity of over 3000 be limited to 1200 and the response was that it was dependent on the event.

The league expressed concern about what they termed ‘the continuing use of fireworks’ at FCUM games but stated that our fans are not a major concern to them.

The licensing officer from the local authority then suggested that if the concerns she had raised could not be addressed she would consider requesting the game be played behind closed doors. AH asked the league if she had the power to do this and they confirmed the local authority had the power to do so.

After much further discussion AH suggested that they limit the capacity of the seating area but allow free flow in the rest of the ground, repeatedly and correctly pointing out that there had never been any trouble between the fans in the past. They agreed therefore to not have segregation. After further lengthy debate it was decided that the original capacity of 1200 be lifted to a figure of 2000. The tickets would be split 50/50 with 1000 going to FCUM. These would contain 500 tickets for the seating area and 500 for the rest of the ground. FCUM would also have to provide some stewards for the seating area.

Changing kick off times or the day of the kick off was also debated but following strong representations from AH and with the backing of the police and the league it was agreed to keep the kick off as 3pm on Saturday 5th May.

We therefore left the meeting dissatisfied and frustrated but sure we had done our best in representing our supporters. The outcome had been far from ideal and fell a good bit short of what we had hoped for, but given we ultimately have little say in the final decision we were confident we had made some gains as a result of our input.

On Wednesday 2nd May 2012, we were informed it had been decided that the fixture could no longer proceed on Saturday at 3pm. An emergency meeting was called and Andy Walsh made the dash across to Bradford to attend on behalf of FC United. Also in attendance were:

West Yorkshire Police
Bradford City Council Licensing

At this second meeting the police commander reported that all available policing resources would be employed around the Bradford City game against Swindon Town. At a meeting of the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) that morning she had advised that there were insufficient police resources available to cover any incident that may arise from the Play Off Final at BPA. When asked why this was not conveyed at the Monday meeting the meeting was informed that intelligence around the BCFC game had changed. The SAG were unwilling to allow the Play Off Final to go ahead without cover available from the police.

Both BPA and FC United argued that due to the safety record of the previous games between both clubs at the Horsfall stadium that the game should be allowed to go ahead at 3pm on Saturday that arrangements were now in place and that fans will have already booked transport and made arrangements to get to the game.

The case was made very clearly by both BPA and FC United that no trouble had occurred at a BPA vs FCUM game previously and that the game should still be able to go ahead at 3pm on Saturday. The safety officer and BPA raised the same concerns that had been aired at the previous meeting. All efforts to get our allocation of tickets and the capacity increased were rejected.

The possibility of an early morning kick off on Saturday or Sunday was raised, FC United objected to both suggestions due to the inconvenience this would cause to fans and players. A Monday game was opposed by the police due to a lack of available resources.

We further argued that an alternative, neutral venue should be sought, but we were advised that none were available.

We were advised that additional stewards are to be deployed around the ground to stop fans climbing over the fence to gain entry. The point was made that if these stewards were deployed inside the ground then a better crowd management procedure could be established which should allow a larger number of tickets, this argument was rejected.

Ultimately, given the limited choices available to us, reluctant agreement was reached on a kick off at 2pm on Sunday 6th May with our objections noted.

The meeting ended and FC United reiterated that concerns about crowd management would be greatly eased if an additional allocation of tickets were made available to FC United.

At 8:21 on Wednesday 2nd May the Bradford Telegraph and Argus carried the following quote from BPA Director Kevin Hainsworth:

“Within half an hour of us putting our tickets on sale for what we thought was a Saturday game, we were informed that the authorities wouldn’t allow it to go ahead on that day.

“They had gathered information from various FC United fans’ forums and decided there was a risk of trouble. They contacted Bradford Council (owners of the stadium), and it doesn’t matter who is providing the stewarding or who holds the safety certificate for the ground when it come to matters like this so it was off from then"

This was not the reason given to the meeting by West Yorkshire Police.

Indeed we specifically asked what intelligence the decision was based on and were told that the reason for the game being moved is because of issues connected with the Bradford City game.

We do not know why Kevin Hainsworth has chosen to make such a statement at this time but, if an accurate quote, is wholly misleading.

It is the Board’s view that the whole chain of events this week has been unnecessary; that a kick off time at 3pm on Saturday could have been maintained; that a larger allocation of tickets could have been provided and safely managed; that our supporters have been considerably and unnecessarily inconvenienced and that it has put an incredible burden on our hard working staff and volunteers.

The question of whether to accept an allocation of tickets has been considered, but following a resolution submitted to the last AGM there was, despite it not being formally adopted, a clear majority in favour of allowing supporters to choose whether to attend a game and therefore the Board are happy to support this wish. We acknowledge that the wording of the resolution still allows for the Board to make a recommendation on whether to attend, but given the undoubted wish amongst the membership to be allowed the freedom to choose, feel it more pertinent to provide supporters with the facts, allow them to draw their own conclusions and individually decide for themselves whether to attend. Until given direction to the contrary, that will remain Board policy.

To those supporters who intend to go to the game, we know that you’ll get behind the team. To those that choose not to, we understand and share your frustration and only wish such a scenario could have been avoided.

The Board of FC United of Manchester
People waiting for ticket sales to commence at Bradford's ground yesterday were told, around 12-30, by a club official that they were about to start selling tickets but that fans should be aware that the police, acting on intelligence, were trying to move the game to Monday. The Bradford City Council safety officer also left the ground around that time, brusquely refusing to answer questions from fans as she left.

There has never been trouble at FC v Bradford games despite big crowds in some important games. Yes, some FC fans light flares and have repeatedly been asked by the club, and fellow supporters to stop. But is that grounds for denying 1000 fans from Bradford and Manchester the right  game for our clubs?

If the authorities cut the capacity from 3,500 to 2,000 they immediately create a safety and security problem. There is no segregation this week but last week segregation broke down in the semi-final because an unrealistic limit on tickets, arbitrarily set by the authorities, meant that several hundred of us bought tickets for the home section. There was still no trouble, as there rarely has been at FC United games, but still the authorities do not learn.

In the case of Bradford Park Avenue there are many vantage points outside the ground giving a view of the pitch. At last year's final there was a hill outside the Colwyn Bay ground that was occupied by ticketless FC United fans and others. There was a little disorder admittedly, but there was room in the ground for all those on the hill. If the authorities hadn't been so stupid by reducing the capacity those fans could have been safely inside the ground wher there was adequate crowd control.

If I lived in Bradford I would be asking why West Yorkshire Police are incapable of dealing with two football games, on opposite sides of the city, one limited to 2,000 people the other likely to attract no more than 12,000 people.  In 1954 102,569 attended a rugby league game at Odsal Stadium in Bradford. My word, how incompetent the modern police must be if they can't cope with 15,000 fans.

Finally. For a sense of perspective on flares I have never seen more than a couple held aloft at the same time at FC United games. While I don't excuse their use the following footage may put the issue in perspective:

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