Thanks very much to STAR (Supporters' Trust At Reading) Board Member and former Chairman Paula Martin for the below.
Stewards In 2016
One item that came up in the last atmosphere focus group is the influence of stewarding on the atmosphere, and I felt there are some misconceptions and memories of stewarding that are now misleading.
I am more aware of the stewarding and associated safety issues as in the time I have been involved in STAR I have taken an interest and have shadowed both the chief steward and the chief tango at games to try to understand the role. Also I am now the STAR representative on the Safety Advisory Group at the Madejski Stadium. This group meets at least twice a season and consists of representatives of Reading Borough Council (Travel, Regulatory Services, Building Control), Thames Valley Police, South Central Ambulance Service, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue, Sports Ground Safety Authority and of course Reading Football Club as well as STAR representing supporters.
A proportion of the meeting concerns what could be seen as boring checks and balances concerning safety issues but it is the basis of the club's safety certificate without which there would be no spectators in the ground. Consequently the attitude of RBC is critical to the way RFC implements its stewarding policy. In that context memories of stewarding may be misleading as there has been a change of chair of the Safety Advisory Group and the stadium Safety Officer in the last few years and a consequent change in the briefing of stewards .
View From The Other Side
As I have always been interested in building bridges between supporters and stewards, I was invited to a stewards training session and was cornered by the chief steward and chief tango as they were only too happy to understand the Reading supporters view (though having said that both are follow relatively local teams and so are also supporters in their own right). As a result I spent a day shadowing the chief steward (who is now the Safety Officer) and it was very informative on the variety of problems that occur during a game - it is not all trying to enforce sitting though at that time that was more important than it is now due to the attitude of RBC.
The thing that made the biggest impression on me however was the attitude of my fellow supporters just because I was wearing a yellow jacket. I was cut dead by several people I knew, until they recognised me and then their reaction changed magically, so it made me realise that a lot of supporters react to the uniform and not the person inside it - in fact some react as if it is not a person at all. This is recognised by RFC and so there have been moves to keep stewards in the same roles so they get to know the supporters in their area and get known for who they are and not just what they are seen to represent. This works both ways though, as I have been invited to several steward training sessions and table-top exercises and, before I was known to them, was surprised at the way some stewards spoke about supporters before I spoke up for the supporters point of view. It made me realise that stereotyping happens both ways.
It was in an attempt to break down these stereotypes (on either side) that I have tried to arrange meetings between stewards and supporters over the years but have never had more than a handful of supporters attend to put their point of view - in fact at the last meeting I was the alone in representing supporters so I gave up trying to organise meetings.
Personally I come to games to watch the football and just as a good referee is one you never notice, a good steward would be one who does their job without being noticed but I know that there are incidents that happen and emotions run high so there is a need to help supporters and stewards understand each other and be able to cope with incidents without escalating the problem.
You may have seen in Dave Harris's report on the atmosphere group that STAR is intending to have stand representatives this season to act as a point of contact for liaison between supporters and club. This has been agreed by RFC and the responsibilities are:
- Support endeavours to continually improve relationships between supporters. RFC and STAR
- Gather feedback from supporters; identify issues and opportunities and communicate these to STAR and RFC
- Support RFC and STAR in communicating key information to supporters
- Develop an understanding of relevant matters affecting RFC and supporters (including RFC Customers Charter and ground regulations
- Develop an understanding of STAR (including its objectives and policies
- Promote awareness of STAR and recruit new members
- Establish and maintain communications with Stand Safety Officers and stewards
Several STAR Board members have volunteered to get this started but it would be great to get other supporters willing to share the role and help their fellow supporters and so we will be looking to get more volunteers and will give them the relevant training. If you think you may be interested email STAR at email@example.com or call in to talk to us at the STAR Base opposite gate 7 at the Madejski Stadium.
One area that has been under the microscope lately is the use of flares and pyrotechnics at football matches and this was the subject of a ‘tabletop exercise' for the stewards last season to which I was invited. It was certainly an eye-opener to see the effect of flares (though this was more visible at the Euros when a steward was injured when trying to pick up a flare from the pitch). The fire stewards and stand supervisors are all trained to deal with these but the use of them is not without consequences for anyone bringing to a game ‘to help the atmosphere' . There is a very good explanation of the Football Supporters Federation website right here.
Palace Cup Tie Problems
Finally I have recently attended the first (of a total of three) meeting of the season of the Safety Advisory Group and apart from the usual feedback on matters since the last meeting, there was an item on Freedom of Information requests following the Crystal Palace cup game when the Police appeared in the East Stand concourse. This lead to a long and interesting discussion on that game, bringing out the reasons for the policing that appeared so over the top to those in the East stand. First the club believes they are the first club to have been fined for a celebratory pitch invasion after the Bradford Cup quarter final game the season before, and so were determined that this quarter final would not end in a pitch invasion, especially by those further to the north of the East stand coming down to get nearer the away fans. Secondly the Police explained that the kit they were wearing may appear intimidating but it takes 6-7 minutes to don all the equipment and so it was in use in case they were deployed elsewhere at short notice following this time on the concourse, as well as possibly for time in the tunnel when they are below both home and away supporters (I was told that all the recent injuries to Police at matches are upper body injuries and so this kits provides some protection). I do not know what, if any, intelligence there was that would lead them to expect trouble (as that is never given to these meetings) but it was pointed out that Reading supporters have a reputation of being well behaved and so it is actually a positive point that Reading supporters were so upset at the sight of Police on the concourse.
I also asked why the Police in that line did not respond to questions asking why they were there and had a mixture of responses, one was that, in order not to escalate matters with people who reacted violently (such as spitting at them,) it is best to just use their ‘bland' face, another that they deploy where they are instructed and sometimes only the Silver Commander knows the reason why, and also they are also getting instructions over their earpieces so may not be able to respond to people nearby.
I suspect all of these explanations will just bring another list of questions, and so I am pleased to say that, without any prompting, the Police representative for Reading Football Club offered to come to a meeting with supporters. The Safety Officer has also suggested that anyone interested can shadow a steward, as I did, to see the range of problems they come across at a game as well as having the chance to discuss your different point of view for a couple of hours. If you would be interested in either please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org