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“Genuine fear for safety” – Manchester United fans raise Bruges concerns

Manchester United fans have written to the Mayor of Bruges over the treatment they received in the Belgian city during their Europa League fixture last week.

Fans who made the trip to the historic city have raised serious concerns about the stewarding and policing at the game – as well as the lack of public transport provided for away fans.

Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) wrote to the Mayor of the city, Dirk De fauw, asking him to explain the city’s operation which included water cannons, helicopter units and barbed-wire fencing.

“As representatives of law abiding supporters and members we have no choice other than to highlight the deplorable treatment we were subjected to during our visit to Brugge, by the local police and stewards,” MUST wrote.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that many fans were in genuine fear for their safety at times throughout the evening.”

Away supporters attending the match complained about being locked into the ground and the conduct of the stewards, who allegedly had no means of opening a locked exit gate despite the risk of crushes developing.

MUST said: “Many of us who’ve travelled the world following MUFC are of the opinion that this was the worst experience of a European away game they’d had for many years.”

Before and after the game, Manchester United fans were barred from using public transport and had to walk to and from the Jan Breydel Stadium – a 50 minute walk from the city centre.

Responding to the complaints this morning, the city’s mayor said he was surprised by the letter and insisted the operation was “normal”.

“The fans of United are treated the same way as any other team in a high-risk match, like PSG, Real Madrid, Antwerp or Standard,” De fauw told Belgian radio.

De Fauw insisted they could not allow home fans and away fans to mix on public transport or the promenades normally used by Club Brugge supporters.

“The fact they had to take a detour is true,” he said. “But this is always the case. The shortest route from stadium to city centre is the road with all the cafes where the supporters from Brugge gather.

“It’s not smart to send the visiting fans in the same direction. Using the detour they arrive at the right entrance to the stadium.

“We want to avoid that confrontation.”

The Mayor also said UEFA were aware and happy with the operation around the match and that the city’s policing style was appropriate.

“UEFA know the fans of United now present themselves as lovely, nice people, but in the past we have had problems and troubles with certain individuals,” De fauw said.

“It’s not only nice people that come to Brugge to visit the city and see a football game. There has to be police and they have to be well prepared.”

The incidents in Bruges mirror others where fans have faced poor treatment travelling to see their teams in European club competition. Arsenal fans felt compelled to write to the mayor of Madrid back in 2018 following their “inexcusable” treatment at the hands of the city’s police.

Similarly, Chelsea fans supported by their club took a complaint to UEFA about the actions of stewards at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Football Supporters’ Europe, the umbrella organisation for fan groups across Europe, have been collating the away fan experience in the Champions League and Europa League through their survey work – lobbying UEFA to introduce minimum standards across the continent as competition conditions.

“Poor treatment is one issue but the safety concerns go far beyond that and we will be sending a report to UEFA outlining the issues our supporters have sent to us,” MUST said.

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