This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.
A significant chunk of the Football Supporters’ Federation’s inbox is made up of fans who have fallen out with their football club. Often it’s the club that is at fault but sometimes it’s the fan too. Occasionally it’s neither – just a small misunderstanding that can be solved with a little common sense from both parties.
We’ll let you judge whether you think common sense was applied by Leeds United in the case of 47-year-old fan Darrell Boland.
Darrell’s been a regular home and away fan for 30 years and that type of passion doesn’t just appear out of the ether. It’s often planted by a father or grandfather and, in the right circumstances, passes down through the generations.
Darrell knows this and, on Tuesday 20th September 2011, decided to take his 10-year-old grandson to Elland Road for the fourth round Carling Cup tie against Manchester United. Maybe his grandson’s “sneaking allegiance” for Leeds would turn into full-blown support.
Ten minutes before half-time his grandson decides that, as kids do, he needs the toilet and he needs it now. Darrell responds as anyone would and tries to get his grandson to the toilet as quickly as possible. In the midst of this mini-emergency he clambers through a barrier (right) to avoid having to weave through the crowd and legs it to the toilet.
Darrell picks up the story: “We’d went that way five minutes before the game started and were in the first two seats right next to the barrier. I didn’t have to get past stewards to get to the barrier, it was right in front of us. Because it was empty and the other way was packed I decided to head through that way.
“I admit I didn’t acknowledge the steward on the way past because we were in a hurry and I was more concerned about getting my grandson to the urinals. On the way back the head steward appeared, he was obviously high on adrenaline because of the ferocity of a Leeds United-Manchester United game, and told me I would have to leave the stadium for ‘crossing one area of the stadium to another.’
My grandson’s bottom lip quivered
“I couldn’t see stewards doing anything about people standing on chairs or swearing, it felt like they’d chosen me because I was an easy target. I tried to explain the situation but he already had his mind made up, there was no way to reconcile. I was in disbelief that something so trivial could warrant this response. My grandson’s bottom lip quivered. A little boy, 10-years-old, frightened in a stadium full of hostility wondering why him and his granddad are getting thrown out.”
The stewards also refused to let Darrell contact his friend Gary who had travelled to Elland Road with them. Darrell wanted to let him know that they were being thrown out but he says the stewards refused to let him leave the concourse as he ‘might run off’.
“The worst part was the aggressiveness, the in-your-face attitude of the steward,” says Darrell. “It was like I’d done something criminal. I said I’ve got a 10-year-old child with me, I’m not going to run off! But they didn’t want to know. I found out afterwards that Gary had spoken to the stewards and asked why I’d be thrown out. They said ‘he’s crossed from one part of the stadium to another and Gary says ‘give over, he’s only taken his grandson for a p**s’. The steward told Gary I should have just let the lad pee himself.” Apology? No reply
Afterwards Darrell emailed the club to complain about his treatment and ask for an apology. He had hoped that they’d show some empathy or acknowledge that there’d been an overreaction on the part of the stewards to a very minor misdemeanour. But Darrell never received a reply from Leeds United and things got even worse.
Darrell’s match tickets had actually been bought by his friend Alan Green, 53, who had purchased the ticket under his son’s membership. This is allowed in the T&Cs of Leeds United’s membership scheme. When Darrell didn’t hear back from the club Alan contacted them and explained that he felt his friend had been treated unfairly.
But as Darrell was Alan’s ‘guest’ he was held responsible for Darrell’s ‘behaviour’ and the club later wrote to Alan to inform him that his (then) 13-year-old son’s season tickets would be suspended until he’d signed a “behavioural agreement”. This was done without giving Alan or Darrell any opportunity to supply evidence – the club effectively acted as judge, jury, and executioner.
Alan signed the agreement but says: “I never received any correspondence on why my son was suspended. I spoke to a Leeds representative and no-one ever came back with an answer. There hasn’t been any apology from the club, they’ve shown no interest and I don’t expect to hear from them again.
“If he’d been a customer of mine I would’ve been in touch. My own business employs 25 people and has a £3m turnover, I know about customer service. Over the years I’ve bought so many tickets for people and been to so many games, I must’ve spent £100,000 on Leeds United.
“If you have a c**p experience at Tesco you can go to Sainsbury’s but you can’t just sack your club off can you? I went to the European Cup final in 1975 with £4 in my pocket. Nowadays we’ve already had to renew the season ticket for next year or it goes up by £50. It’s £36 for an adult ticket, £25 for a kid’s, and that’s to be treated in this way.”
It’s now been more than one year since COVID-19 first hit and the football calendar changed dramatically. Supporters haven’t been in grounds since November 2020 and it’s likely that, even with a return to some form of normality, restrictions will be in place next season too.
This morning Damian Collins MP and Sunderland co-owner Charlie Methven published their recommendations for radical changes to the way football is governed if it is to survive and be sustainable in the long-term after its return from the COVID-19 pandemic. Below Damian talks us through his ideas…
At the FSA we’re keen to promote the best practice when it comes to clubs talking to their supporters, as the benefits of engaging with fans are obvious – at least to us. One tool that’s become increasingly common in formalising those discussions is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).