The season may not yet be a month old, but an early contender for prize controversy looks like being the row over stewarding at Stevenage when Grimsby Town visited on Saturday.
This resulted in the 3000-strong Mariners’ Trust (an independent group of Grimsby supporters) firing off a heavyweight and public letter of complaint. “The treatment of Grimsby supporters by your stewards was amongst the worst our fans have experienced in decades of travelling across the world to watch football,” said the Trust. Their action received widespread and surprised coverage, including my piece in the Huffington Post.
If the allegations from Grimsby were robust, the response has been explicit and pulled no punches.
Stevenage has said:
- There was a bespoke stewarding plan based on a combination of past experience, supporter behaviour and police intelligence.
- The risk assessment indicated high risk groups attending and the potential for anti-social and un-cooperative behaviour.
- We liaised with Grimsby Town’s safety officer, the police and others, it was indicated to us that prohibited items were likely to try to be brought into the grounds and could be passed onto those deemed less likely to be searched, such as women and younger supporters.
- Grimsby Town’s Supporter Liaison Officer was made fully aware of the nature of the search regime prior to the game,
- Stewards used for this role in the away section of the stadium were provided by a reputable agency and are qualified to act as such.
- Searches conducted are recorded on CCTV and on this occasion, were in the presence of deployed police officers.
- No incidents were recorded on the day of any inappropriate behaviour towards female supporters or young spectators. (Had such incidents been either reported or flagged up, the issues would have been dealt with immediately.)
This response at once both helps and exacerbates the situation. It directly contradicts some of the Trust’s complaints but, crucially, asserts that Grimsby Town officials knew and were content with the Stevenage arrangements. There seems to have been, at best, a communications blip within the Grimsby community. (No response, by the way, from the club’s press office on that point so far).
Equally troubling, I imagine, is the unflattering description of the club’s supporters. “High risk”, “Un co-operative”, “anti-social” passing prohibited goods onto “those deemed less likely to be searched”. Not great things to have said about you.
But robust as it is, the Stevenage statement is not a complete rebuttal. Although the plans seem to have been for a “full 100% complaint searching regime”, this is not what happened according to Grimsby fans.
And Stewards at the away end may have been suitably qualified and from a reputable agency, but that does not mean the alleged provocative behaviour about did not happen. The absence of complaints on the day also does not mean there were not things to be complained about.
Stevenage concludes their response by saying “The club takes these allegations seriously and will both study the CCTV footage and speak to the relevant parties to ensure that no infringements of accepted procedures took place.”
Let’s hope that they include the views of travelling supporters in that investigation – and perhaps appoints someone independent to conduct it. A commitment to publication would be helpful too. That would all go some way to resolve a clearly high charged situation – bearing in mind these two clubs will met again later in the season. And in this increasingly digitalised age, is it time to start thinking about the use of bodycams for stewards?
The footballing world is, of course, already moving on. Grimsby’s disappointment will have been compounded by a 1-0 defeat to Derby County yesterday (22 August) evening. But the outcome of Stevenage’s investigations will have meaning and consequence that is wider than the two clubs directly involved.