Sniffing out the news once more
You will probably have heard the story by now: disabled Arsenal supporters with tickets attempting to enter Old Trafford this season had their walking sticks removed because
a) they could be used as weapons
b) no one had told Man U that the disabled were coming.
It is shocking, of course, but perhaps for some of us who have been on away trips to Old Trafford, not that surprising. There is, (and you might well have spotted this if you have been there), something in the air in Stretford.
So it is sad, but typical, that in the media coverage of Old Trafford’s treatment of Arsenal supporters with walking sticks, no one has asked the vital questions behind the event. Why do some disabled supporters (and here we must remember that Man U themselves have said that those with walking sticks have caused problems in the past – they don’t just cite Arsenal) turn violent at Old Trafford, but nowhere else?
Put another way, what is it about Old Trafford, or perhaps Manchester, that makes it a place that encourages violence among the disabled?
Certainly we know that Manchester is a violent and disturbing place, and one can tell from the Daily Mirror’s website headline in March 2014: Watch the horrifying moment a rampaging mob spread violence and mayhem through the streets of Manchester
In November of the same year the Manchester Evening News ran Watch: Hundred hooligans in violent street brawl after Manchester derby
In April 2013 the UK Peace Index study, carried out by the Institute for Economics and Peace revealed Manchester to be one of the least peaceful areas of the UK.
So why? What is it about Manchester that not only makes it a violent place, but also seems to imbue even peaceful disabled visitors with a tendency to use their walking sticks to attack others (at least according to Manchester United stewards – and it is of course only their evidence that we have for such things. But I am sure Man U stewards are all honourable and honest people who wouldn’t make up stories, so we’ll take them at their word).
It is of course possible to argue that Manchester is a place in which violence is simply endemic, but this doesn’t explain how people who are peaceful elsewhere can turn violent when they enter the city.
No, I think the answer is elsewhere. I believe that n Manchester the violence is literally in the air, because of dangerously high levels of air pollution. And indeed it is interesting that the government regularly issues warnings about air quality in Manchester. Combine the atmosphere with the native Mancunian’s general tendency towards violence, and you have a potent cocktail.
The department for environment blames traffic fumes combined with pollution from Europe (we can always blame Europe) and dust from the Sahara, and I can see how that might affect people.
But there is a second point: the issue of a warning. The Old Trafford Defence League (Disabled Division) or whatever it is called, said that if they had known in advance about the walking sticks, things would have been ok. And we have to ask why? how? and quite possibly WHAT????
For Man U claimed the disabled fans could also pose a health and safety risk and they needed to have the number of walking sticks counted in advance.
And Untold demands: How would knowing in advance help?
The number of disabled supporters with walking aids in the away section at Man U is tiny. And these walking sticks don’t get hidden. So they are there to see upon entry. I repeat: How does knowing in advance that Mr X sitting in Seat Y is going to use such an aid, in advance, actually help Elf and Aftey?
Truly, there is something in the air in Stratford.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is apparently writing to Manchester United and the Premier League after the Disability News Service passed on their concerns. That is right and proper. But I fear they won’t ask the right questions – including the BIG ONE (as they say in football). Why does this only happen in Manchester?
17 May 2015 when the events took place and Arsenal played Man U at O.T. was a troublesome time for Man U. Their return to the bidden land of the top four had stumbled a bit, and Arsenal had already won at O.T. in the FAC. And there was a lot of European dust drifting by. It was a potent cocktail and enough to make any disabled supporter raise his stick in ire.
Like hell it was. The act by Man U was outrageous in the extreme, and their pathetic defence of not knowing about the number of sticks in advance is childish.
In the end the disabled supporters were allowed into the stadium to take their seats after the intervention of an officer from Greater Manchester police according to a police spokesman cited by the Disability News Service. Good for him, good for them. But even then after the Arsenal fans had been escorted to their seats, as if not enough humiliation had been meted out, the sticks were confiscated!
The EHRC has said it had not ruled out legal action against Man U.
Indeed Manchester Utd has oft been repeatedly criticised for failing to provide the recommended number of spaces for wheelchair-users at Old Trafford but we’ve grown used to that. It has 120 wheelchair spaces when there should be 280.
The entire and total defence of Manchester Utd came from the spokesman who said: “This policy is displayed at the turnstiles and on our website. The disability liaison officers from both clubs also communicate this policy in advance.
“Where supporters arrive without having pre-notified us of the need for such devices, our stewarding team performs a dynamic risk assessment which usually involves finding a solution to accompany the supporter to their seat and storing the walking device during the game.
“At the game in question, a significant number of visiting supporters who had not pre-notified the club arrived with walking devices.”
Like all Jobsworths they make it sound almost reasonable. But of course it isn’t. Asked whether the club would be apologising to the disabled fans, and whether it was concerned that it might have breached the Equality Act, the spokesbeing refused to comment further.
THEY HAVE EVEN REFUSED TO APOLOGISE!
A spokesperson for Level Playing Field, the organisation that works to improve access to sporting venues, said: “Manchester United is, by all accounts, the only Premier League club with this policy.
“LPF would always advise clubs not to confiscate walking aids (such as walking sticks or crutches) from disabled fans and believes that such a practice may even be deemed as discriminatory.”
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief legal officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said, “Over the past months, we have received a number of complaints about provision for disabled fans at the Premier League.
“This has included discriminatory policies that prevent disabled fans having the same opportunities to attend football matches as non-disabled people. Complaints have been about disabled fans being prevented from obtaining season tickets, a lack of adequate space for wheelchair-users, and problems for families with young disabled children being unable to sit together to enjoy a game.”
Premier League clubs have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure reasonable adjustment for disabled fans and to make sure they do not discriminate against them in the provision of goods and services.
But, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority confirmed what we’ve found before: the authority ludicrously does not have the regulatory powers to take action against a club for anything other than breaching the rule that Premier League and Championship clubs have to be all-seater stadiums! So as the rules stand, it is down to the individual to take action against a club if he/she feels they have been discriminated against.
Arsenal provide 96% of the number of wheelchair places recommended by the Home Office for a Premier League club, a room for disabled supporters to change, lifts and a lounge facility available before games. The club has a dedicated team of helpers, and from the experience I have had from being with disabled supporters on occasion, there is no problem getting tickets (which means in effect the missing 4% of places isn’t making it harder for disabled people to get tickets than it is for other supporters), the pricing arrangements are superb, and so is the way the disabled supporters are supported by the club.
But the fact remains, Stratford is the only place where walking stick violence is reported. Why there I wonder.
Anniversary of the day…
8 June 1995: Bruce Rioch appointed manager of Arsenal from Bolton. In 1994/5 Bolton were losing League Cup finalists, and beat Reading in the Division One play off. It is said Bolton supporters think of him as one of their best managers.
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