Thursday, 30 June 2011

Hopping mad

The strange case of the 'Whatton One'

Followers of Easington United will no doubt have seen the recent news concerning the charge of “failure to control its members” levelled at the club following the final game of the season, at home to Whatton United.
Because of the subsequent disciplinary process, I couldn’t really go into any details about the incident that prompted this charge when penning the match report and subsequent blog post. Even though the views expressed in this blog are mine alone and not necessarily those of the club, I didn’t wish to post anything that might in any way hamper our defence.
However, with the case now closed, I feel able to express my disappointment at the East Riding CFA Disciplinary Panel’s decision to find “Case Proved” and to warn the Club as to its future conduct. Granted, no fine was imposed but the name of Easington United AFC has still been tainted by something which I feel was totally out of our control. 
What really galls me is that I honestly can't see how the club could have prevented the incident for which it was eventually charged, nor do I understand how it is somehow responsible for the actions of the individual(s) in question.  
As for the incident itself, I only caught the tail end of it.  It was whilst standing in the entrance to the Hospitality Area enjoying the game when my attention was drawn to some sort of altercation taking place in and around the visitors’ technical area further up the touchline.
From what I’ve since learned, words had allegedly been exchanged between the spectator in question and the Whatton manager. This in turn led to the former encroaching into the technical area to - allegedly - launch some sort of assault.
Order was quickly restored (i.e. the spectator retired behind the barrier) and after the referee had consulted with his assistant he then asked me to escort said individual from the ground. This I did - a matter subsequently noted in the referee's official report - and the spectator proceeded to stand outside the ground's main gate trying to watch the remainder of the action.
En route to the gate, I learned that the individual had travelled up from Louth, was a regular groundhopper, had never encountered problems of this nature before and, finally, was profusely apologetic for any trouble brought on a club which had afforded such a warm welcome. That, I hoped, would be the end of the matter.
It wasn’t.  An official complaint from the Whatton manager ensured things would have to be taken further.  This in itself was also slightly annoying given that by the accounts of various bystanders, he was by no means blameless.
On receipt of the charge sheets, in addition to helping complete our official response on behalf of the club, I contacted the ERCFA to explain that I couldn't provide details of the the spectator concerned - let alone pass on the correspondence - as I knew nothing as to his/her whereabouts.  The individual is not and never has been a "member" of our club. Indeed, prior to 21st May I’m almost certain that he/she had never set foot in the ground (I surely would have remembered).
So how far does our remit of responsibility extend?  From the fact we've been found guilty it must be assumed that anybody at our ground on match day is in effect a "club member" for that day and is therfore to be made aware of our Code of Conduct for Spectators.  However, we are in a somewhat unique position at Low Farm (or the Easington Recreation & Sports Ground to give it its full title).  Because our ground is owned by the local Recreation & Sports Association (ERSA) and is open to the public, we are unable to charge and/or operate a gate.  Therefore, despite there being no other attraction on the ground on a Saturday afternoon, it could be argued that not everybody present is there to watch football.  In short, anyone can come on to the ground at any time, day or night.
Still, even accepting that this individual was there to watch the game and therefore falls loosely under our responsibilty, there was nothing to suggest anything untoward when this particular spectator and several other "hoppers" (enjoying one of the few games taking place that afternoon) queued for their pre-match refreshments, took a stroll round the ground and/or checked-off their team sheets against that on the programme.  The fact that by and large they have no real affinity to either team taking part would suggest there would be little for them to get over-excited about.  How wrong could I be?
Ironically, because nobody knew the exact details of the spectator in question (name, address etc) the case against him/her was found “Not Proved”.  So, in effect, both parties actually involved in the incident come out of it unscathed whereas the name of Easington United appears in the local Press alongside a charge of failing to control its members, thus allowing people to assume all sorts of misdemeanours have taken place.  Similar to the fall-out from the events at Bulwell at the end of the 2009/10 season, mud often sticks.  Talk about adding insult to injury.
But short of pursuing a costly appeal with the Football Association, there is nothing the club can do to clear its name.  Excuse me if I fail to see how justice has been administered in this particular case.


Anonymous said...

The individual on your photograph attends games in Notts and has been involved in previous incidents.

john holt said...

The individual is well known to Nottinghamshire clubs and has been involved in previous incidents.