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Chelsea Supporters’ Trust: Fan ban threat doesn’t stand up

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

In an open letter to the club Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST) outline their concerns at the club’s threat to ban fans for standing. Not all clubs share Chelsea’s view and the likes of Cardiff City manage persistent standing in a far more progressive way. FSF affiliated fans’ group CST explain more…

Dear Ron [Gourlay – Chelsea Chief Executive],

I write with regard to the e-mail the club sent on Thursday to season ticket holders in the Shed Lower and Matthew Harding Lower stands, with regard to ‘persistent standing’, threatening them with bans if they do this. These e-mails have clearly caused concern and anger amongst many Chelsea supporters, and the CST have been contacted by a number of recipients asking that we investigate and respond.

In taking this course of action Chelsea seem to be significantly out of step with many Premier League clubs who effectively allow standing in certain areas of the ground, notably Cardiff who commissioned a report into the issue.

More and more PL clubs seem to be turning a “blind eye” towards supporters standing in certain areas. A Mail On Sunday article from 24th November makes interesting reading:

“Clubs have discovered that the Premier League’s no-standing policy is not as clear cut as their public statements imply. Indeed, the League have effectively been telling some clubs that they can sell tickets in either ‘seated’ and ‘standing’ areas.

“In an official Premier League letter, sent to a fan and seen by this newspaper, the League admit that it is ‘a concern’ that some elderly people, children and those with mobility issues are inconvenienced by fans who want to stand. The letter adds: ‘We are working with the clubs to find more imaginative ways of selling tickets to ensure that everyone can see.’

“This is understood to be a reference to the Premier League giving their blessing to the sale of tickets on the basis of whether fans definitely intend to sit throughout a match.

“A Premier League spokesman told the Mail on Sunday: ‘There are some persistent standing issues at certain clubs and we are working with them… to manage that safely. That includes working with clubs to explore ways of making sure that families, young fans and senior citizens, are offered the opportunity to purchase tickets in sections that have not had persistent standing issues in the past’.

As this article shows, other clubs seem to be trying to accommodate both those supporters who wish to stand and those that prefer not to, as opposed to imposing draconian punishment on those who prefer to stand up while getting behind their team. Given this, could the club not designate one part of the ground on the basis described above, and advise those who wish to sit down to purchase tickets elsewhere in the stadium?

In this way, those who prefer a more sedentary match-day experience can do so without a detrimental effect on atmosphere and vocal support. Season ticket holders in these stands must know they will be in with the most vocal and demonstrative supporters when they buy/renew their tickets, and it is clear many choose these locations for this very reason.

There is also a clear problem with regard to definition, which raises a series of pertinent questions the e-mail fails to answer. Who defines ‘persistent’? Is there a commonly accepted interpretation? It must surely be a subjective issue – what one person calls persistent another will not.

On what basis is the ban made (e.g. steward observation, CCTV footage)? Who makes the decision? Is there any recourse to appeal? What period of time would the ban be for? Would there be any financial recompense for cancelled season tickets? Is there no alternative course of action to bans?

The club seem to increasingly use stadium bans as a standard course of action (e.g. where supporters sell on tickets at face value) which has caused a number of genuine supporters much concern and distress.

Just by issuing this e-mail the club are increasing the sense of alienation many supporters feel. If bans are issued, this sense of alienation will inevitably increase especially amongst younger supporters who are the future lifeblood of the club. Football needs passionate supporters and it is pleasing that clubs increasingly realise this.

It is only a couple of weeks since the manager was talking about his desire for a better atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. It is exactly those supporters who are keen to enhance the atmosphere and get behind the team in a vocal and demonstrative manner that seem to be being targeted in this ill-judged and divisive e-mail.

Supporters’ groups are not invited to participate in the Safety Advisory Group (SAG), which is a shame. Reviewing the latest SAG minutes (July 2013), apart from reference that “guidance on persistent standing is expected to come out shortly” and reference to “favourable publicity about Sunderland banning season ticket holders for persistent standing”, the issue is not mentioned.

The Safe Standing Roadshow being invited to attend the next Fans Forum we see as a positive step by the club, and the CST are keen to work with you and your colleagues to take this issue forward, but the introduction of such a facility into Stamford Bridge is clearly not a short-term measure.

It is to be regretted that by sending this e-mail to thousands of match-going supporters the club seems out of step with prevailing thought at a number of other leading clubs, and has sadly enhanced the sense of alienation many loyal supporters feel with regard to the club.

The CST are keen to discuss this issue with you and your colleagues as we are genuinely concerned that taking this course of action is a retrograde step, and feel that the issue could be effectively addressed in a more pro-active manner.

Tim Rolls
Chair – Chelsea Supporters Trust

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.

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