Football: Tutors and stewards would create a far safer dynasty

LIBERO
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a bad week for stewards, those yellow and orange- jacketed figures inside football grounds who, it seems, are now supposed to be part doorman - or should that be doormat? - and part policeman.

Much criticism was aimed at the Portsmouth stewards in the wake of an attack on a linesman by a Sheffield United fan at Fratton Park. They were watching the game, not the crowd, said one observer. They were slow to react, said another. No better, no worse than anywhere else, added a third.

Then, three days later at Reading, a woman stewarding supervisor was attacked by Cardiff supporters. It was the opposite side of the coin from earlier in the season when a Barnsley steward was accused of assaulting one of the opposition's players and some at Old Trafford were said to have turned on Manchester United supporters who refused to sit down.

There have been many conflicting views of stewards this season, as either helpful or hurtful, depending on which ground or area of the country you go to. Individual human nature is clearly also a significant factor; some are simply nicer than others.

The problem is in just such conflict. Often in similar situations, stewards can react differently. A complaint about, say, an abusive neighbour in the seating can meet with either sympathy or a "don't tell me, mate, tell the police".

With clubs using stewards these days to halve police costs - an average of pounds 30 for a police officer, pounds 15 for a steward - one has some sympathy for these part-time volunteers. Some may indeed be boorish and stimulated by power, seeing the job as a way of being paid to watch the match while enjoying pushing people around, but too much these days is generally expected of them.

Which is why many clubs need to review their arrangements. The FA are likely to announce their findings on Portsmouth this week and no doubt they will consider their stewarding and policing arrangements. I was staggered to hear from the club's safety officer, Dave Watson, that only one policeman is usually on duty inside the ground. At Reading, they had 80 riot police for the same size crowd.

You would hope that such a presence is rarely necessary - knowing it can provoke an atmosphere of menace - but there is a balance to be struck. Frequently stewards do not have the authority to control disturbances in the ground and there are times when the presence of the law is a relief. These days, the money should be there.

Most importantly, clubs should also have to follow guidelines on training stewards. While some are undoubtedly given good instruction on such topics as evacuation procedures, first-aid and positions to adopt physically and metaphorically, others appear to be thrown a jacket, given a cursory briefing and let loose.

Informed by complaints and the examples of inconsistency, the Government's Football Task Force are understood to be considering the whole question of stewarding at matches. The past week has illustrated the need for a code of practice across the country along with a standard training course, which could well, and should, be among their recommendations.

THE FA may not see as feasible an idea in this column last week that they instigate a world-wide summit on refereeing, but surely recent events must make them think.

Martin O'Neill and Carlton Palmer were duly fined for comments on referees and Gordon Strachan is to come. In addition, Les Ferdinand dared the FA to charge him after his vilification of Gerald Ashby following Tottenham's exit from the Cup.

It seems that managers and players are now conspicuously banding together to criticise, perhaps on the Spartacus principle that they can't punish us all. In which case, might a simple summit for players, managers and referees in this country not suffice initially? Or are the FA content to pick up all the revenue from the fines?

THERE was much comment following the publication last week of a report by Colman's, on the poor quality of food at football grounds. Libero merely offers this exchange between himself, a snack bar assistant and her assistant at Portsmouth last week:

"What's in the pies?"

"Dunno. What's in the pies?"

"Meat I think."

"Meat."

"Er, OK. Do you have any forks, please?"

"Dunno. Do we have any forks?"

"No."

"No."

"OK. Thanks."

WITH much fanfare, Sky announced at the beginning of the season their remarkable Virtual Replay computer image system, which could clear up controversial incidents. So where was it on Wednesday for the Newcastle v Stevenage game, especially with Richard Keys mentioning it at one point?

Later that night, ITV's computer purported to show that Alan Shearer's first goal had crossed the line. The next day, Sky's showed it had not. And we're blaming referees for getting things wrong?

OVERHEARD at an under-11s cup match last week from one disappointed, grumbling lad: "I hope they lose in the next round." Still, you expect it at that age and with all these role models on TV, you know they'll grow out of it.

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