The official line

Stewards are often unpopular in football grounds, but Chris Paxton puts their side of the story

Wembley Stadium, the Coca-Cola Cup Final, 1995. With my usual bad sense of positioning, I found myself in the Bolton end next to a couple of Liverpool supporters all decked out in their red shirts and scarves. Everything was fine (just about) until McManaman scored. The two Liverpool fans jumped to their feet and started celebrating. The Bolton fans nearby started complaining and somebody behind me threw something at them. Guess who got hit? That’s right. Yours truly. Fortunately for me, they didn’t return after half-time.

Loftus Road, QPR v Charlton, 1997. I had a part-time job as a steward at the time and that day had the responsibility of looking after the away support. I did my best to be kind and courteous and things were going OK until the Charlton drummer started up. The Charlton drummer is a Valley institution – he brings his drums as often as possible and pounds away on them in an attempt to get the Charlton fans going. It was great until a few Charlton fans sitting near him realized their hearing was being impaired and complained. The drummer was told to stop and when he protested (as he usually does) the rest of the away fans who weren’t deafened decided to have a go at anybody in authority – which included me. In fact, if it wasn’t for a superb save by the Charlton goalie at the crucial moment, things could have turned ugly. I hate to think what might have happened if QPR had scored.

Just two examples which show why away fans tend to cause more problems than they solve. Tim Springett wrote in WSC No 124, “Visiting fans are not a necessary evil” – having been both a steward and an away fan, I’d say that most aren’t. Unfortunately, there are always a few.

Imagine what it is like for stewards when fans come up to them and complain that someone is sitting in their seat. Usually, the offending supporters are there because their own seats are taken. The stewards could try to move them to the correct seats (displacing other fans) but the supporters aren’t particularly keen to move as they have a good view and don’t want to lose it.

Often, they will use some juicy four-letter words to back up their argument. If the stewards keep insisting they move, other away fans may start taking an interest and side with the fans who were causing the problem in the first place. The stewards are now considerably outnumbered and have no alternative but to let the matter drop.

I know that many away ends have appalling views, I know that away ticket prices are unfair, and I know that there are some stewards and policemen who are not particularly helpful (I’ve worked with a few who struggled to speak English). But when you’re dealing with visiting supporters who may be drunk and belligerent, who refuse to sit in the right seats and who regard the stewards as legitimate targets for their insults, visiting fans can easily become a necessary evil.

Every time I’ve been a steward looking after away fans, I’ve ended up hoping their team lose – not because I support the home team, but because I’ve had enough of the fans. Get in touch with your MP if you want, certainly something needs to be done, but firstly, away fans, take a look at your own behaviour. That’s the best way to improve things.

And as for being threatened with expulsion if you enter the home sections – well, it’s either that or risk getting your face smashed in. It’s your decision.

From WSC 126 August 1997. What was happening this month