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FSA Faircop: We need to talk about stewarding

There have been a handful of high profile flashpoints between fans and stewards in recent weeks leading many supporters to write to the FSA with complaints. Here FSA caseworker Amanda Jacks runs through a nine point plan to radically improve the quality of match-day stewarding…

Match day stewards are an integral part of football, every bit as important as players.

Without the stewards, games could not be played. It’s as simple as that. They have many critical responsibilities including assisting with the circulation of spectators, preventing overcrowding, reducing the likelihood of disorder and much more.

Despite this, their pay isn’t great with many being paid a minimum wage or not much more; it’s likely they are on zero hours contracts too.

There are next to no ‘perks’ (it’s been known some clubs charge them for a hot drink) and they’re certainly not there to watch the game.

There is no avoiding the fact that on occasion they will have to deal with people behaving poorly and may even face violence. Being a steward is a tough job which the vast majority do well.

However, if you sensed a ‘but’ coming, you’d be right.

Nine point plan for improving stewarding

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Based on my experience of being the FSA’s caseworker for more than ten years, I believe that there needs to be a complete overhaul of stewarding operations within our football clubs. In no particular order, a few ideas:

  1. A complete change of mindset: Stewards are effectively a club’s front of house staff, something far too many clubs fail to recognise. In some cases they represent a club’s ‘global brand’. Next time you attend a match have a look at the stewards and how they treat you. What do they tell you about the football club they’re representing? More importantly, how does that club value your custom? We don’t want red carpets or to be called sir or madam but it would be nice to be treated in a comparable way to what other ‘world class’ venues (which many of our stadiums are), and not made to feel like a potential public order problem. Basics, such as a smile and a cheery greeting go a very long way.
  2. We’re not criminals: The overwhelming number of people who go through the turnstiles are law abiding men, women and children with no intentions other than having a good day out and supporting their team. It should be drummed into stewards that they should treat people accordingly.
  3. Customer service: In terms of basic customer service training, there should be more of a cross over between corporate hospitality and the stadium safety teams to ensure those who have paid for the cheapest ticket in the stadium are made to feel as welcome as those who are getting five star treatment. The knowledge that fans will return week after week, month after month and year after year should not mean complacency when it comes to customer service. Stewards can create a welcoming environment and contribute to setting the tone, not nearly enough do that.
  4. Apply common sense: Give stewards discretion. A bag an inch too big with only a few items in it will cause no harm. Is a child really going to hurl a Fruit Shoot towards the pitch? An old man is very unlikely to have a knife or drugs under his flat cap, so don’t make him remove it.
  5. Keep it in-house: There is ample anecdotal evidence telling us that supporters aren’t big fans of agency stewards and much prefer – and respond better to – those who they see regularly in their part of the ground. Mutually respectful relationships reduce the likelihood of poor behaviour and disorder. Clubs should bring more stewards in house, pay them well, find out and use what additional skills they have (such as a second language or first aid skills) and make them truly feel part of the team. The benefits are endless.
  6. Approachability: The 2012 Olympics hosted in London managed to run an overwhelmingly safe event without a high-vis jacket in sight. Get stewards out of (often poorly fitting) bright yellow or orange coats and get them into smart ‘Games Maker’ type uniforms we saw the Olympics. Or at the least, clubs should ensure and enforce good dress codes. Who wants to be greeted by a burly, 6’4” steward who’s tucked his trousers into his boots paramilitary style and is wearing sun glasses despite the fact it’s raining cats and dogs? What message does that send?
  7. Understanding the culture: Ensure stewards have a good knowledge of football fans – set reasonable tolerance levels not zero tolerance. Make sure they are capable of intervening in a way that calms rather than escalates.
  8. Appropriate force: Critically, stewards being hands on should be a last resort and not a first resort. Headlocks are dangerous. Throwing people to the ground is dangerous – and then sitting them is doubly dangerous. I don’t care how rarely that happens – it should not happen at all unless absolutely necessary for the stewards own safety. Fans being ejected who are passive and pose no threat should not have their arms wrenched up their backs or even a hand on an arm. Get stewards trained to police standards of restraint.
  9. They aren’t the fun police: Understand how to manage crowd surges after a goal, especially when a play runs over to celebrate with fans. Safety should be at the forefront of crowd management in these situations, not preventing pitch incursions – why else would stewards push fans back into those behind the pushing forward?

These points are not exhaustive, but this is a blog not a thesis. I’d be interested to hear what you think of your experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly and how you think stewarding could be improved – feel free to email me if you have any further ideas.

Finally, reading most club ‘charters’ and you will find a paragraph reminding supporters that they should behave and adhere to ground regulations.

Clubs expect supporters to behave – with tough sanction imposed on fans who break the rules, but this has to be a two way street. Match-days couldn’t happen without stewards so it’s vital that clubs have the same exacting standards of their stewarding teams.

FSA Faircop is part of our ongoing drive to ensure that all fans are treated fairly by football clubs and the authorities – you can contact FSA Caseworker Amanda Jacks via:

Twitter: @FSA_Faircop

Email: [email protected]

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