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Years of progress at risk - FSA Faircop on north west derby woes

Two derbies in the north west this week have drawn criticism from supporters, not for what’s happening on the pitch, but for fans’ voices being excluded from major decisions around derby-day operations. FSA caseworker Amanda Jacks explains more…

On Sunday Liverpool hosted Everton in the FA Cup and this evening one of the League Cup semi-finals between Manchester United and Manchester City will be played at Old Trafford.

Cup fixtures are hugely anticipated by supporters for all sorts of reasons not least because they allow for larger allocations than league games meaning fans who don’t ordinarily get to attend away games have a chance of getting a ticket.

However, before a ball has even been kicked both fixtures have caused controversy. In Manchester because both clubs, at the instigation of Manchester United, have reduced away allocations to 3,000 for the “safety of fans” and in Liverpool, because Merseyside Police put in place an unprecedented policing operation.

Supporter groups – Spirit of Shankly, the Blue Union, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) and 1894 Group – have been vociferous in their objections and while their circumstances are different, what they are all most unhappy about is the lack of consultation from their clubs and in the case of the Merseyside clubs, the police too.

It’s ironic I’m writing this since we often hold up the relationship Merseyside Police has with supporters of both Liverpool and Everton as examples of best practice.

Supporter organisations in both halves of the city have constructive and healthy relationships with their clubs.

Likewise up the M62, MUST have, in recent years, significantly improved their relationship with the club and I understand that supporter groups at Manchester City also have a good working relationship with their club.

Some may say: “Why should clubs and police liaise with their fans?” The answer to that is simple. Because not only are supporters the game’s largest stakeholder, but the benefits of meaningful engagement between clubs, police and supporters are numerous and acknowledged by all parties.

Nobody knows supporters like other supporters. Fan representatives can and do bring a vital, valuable and unique insight into fan behaviour, habits and culture. We know from years of experience that clubs and other agencies find this invaluable.

Not only that, but fans tend to take more notice of their fellow fans than others and this is where supporter groups have often proved hugely beneficial in acting as conduits for information and important messaging.

Granted, they may not always be in favour of the message they’re imparting but if they’ve been consulted and treated like the intelligent adults they are, compromises are often reached.

All of this makes it so exceptionally disappointing that despite years of building up trust and healthy working relationships not a single Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United or Manchester City supporter representative was consulted by their clubs or police with regard to arrangements for their respective derby fixtures.

What makes it worse for Spirit of Shankly and the Blue Union was that consultation ahead of their FA Cup fixture was promised. Similarly, the offer of discussions around the away allocations in the Manchester derby by MUST were not taken up.

Not consulting with supporter reps, rather imposing plans on them, constitutes negligence.

It harks back to the days when fans were treated as a problem never to be spoken with rather spoken about. Without consultation fans end up becoming the passive and often unwilling recipients of policy decisions made without the courtesy of their input and with a complete disregard to the importance of meaningful and constructive dialogue.

Of course it’s too late now. Decisions are made and it’s too late to change minds. This is a great, great shame and we sincerely hope it won’t happen again otherwise supporter groups will have to properly reflect on just how “meaningful” their input is to their clubs and other agencies or whether it’s all just lip service.

Having now seen the policing operation that Merseyside Police put in place at Anfield on Sunday it’s obvious that it has generated a lot of ill feeling and criticism from fans on both sides of Stanley Park.

The job Spirit of Shankly and the Blue Union now have is to repair some of that bad feeling and this will undoubtedly put their relationship with Merseyside Police to the test. Hopefully the police will recognise the genuine opportunity they now have and demonstrate they want a proper working relationship with the game’s largest stakeholder and not just one that pays lip service to the notion of that.

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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