Heavy-handed stewarding at Keepmoat
28 May ~ I wrote in WSC 316 about the decision to demote Doncaster Rovers Belles from the top division of the Women's Super League in favour of Manchester City Ladies. I also mentioned that Belles supporters were planning protests at the FA Cup final played at the Keepmoat on Sunday. Other than some muted applause in the 22nd minute which Jonathan Pearce, to his credit, mentioned in the commentary, there was actually little to be seen in the way of protest.
The supporters' group Noisyfans had planned rather more than this. Outside the ground they collected signatures for a petition and handed out flyers asking fans to join in the applause for the Belles in the 22nd minute. They had bells for the Belles and a large banner saying what they thought. Shortly after they began handing out the flyers, as Popular Stand details, stewards appeared claiming to be acting on behalf of the FA and confiscated the flyers and the petition.
Flushed with their success in removing these dangerous items they decided to see what else the supporters had with them and confiscated the bells, a set of replica shirts and the banner with its "inappropriate message". They would have taken match tickets too but by this time a crowd had gathered, including Belles coach John Buckley who persuaded the stewards to at least allow them to watch the game.
All of the confiscated items were handed back after the match, except for the banner which, the fans were told, was being retained as "evidence" – of what they were not told. Neither were they told by what right their property was not being returned. Many of us have grown wearily accustomed to the preference of the footballing authorities in an era of corporate sponsorship and money-making for spectators as passive consumers of a product rather than as fans with minds of their own and the determination to make their voices heard. Nonetheless, the Belles fans seem genuinely bewildered at the heavy-handed treatment of their peaceful protest. Peter Bateman