I’m finding it tough to comment on the game, maybe it is because so much focus is on events off the field, maybe it is because the 90 minutes on the pitch was unremarkable. Either way, I’ve sat to do my usual analysis and frankly, there’s little to comment on.
I suppose if I were to sum it up, I would say it was a bad day at the office, but not a disaster. Barnet are struggling, teams in their predicament fight for their life, especially when a new manager comes in. We were poor but we got a point, they say the mark of a good team is playing badly and winning, perhaps the mark of a good team is the same but drawing.
I feel better placed to comment on the off field events, certainly now I’ve had time to take stock and speak to lots of people involved. It transpires that my early assessment of the trouble wasn’t entirely accurate. The stewards weren’t acting on impulse, there had been a trigger and some Lincoln ‘fans’ were to blame, initially.
I’ll wade straight in with the sort of comment that earns me DM’s calling me a muppet: if your ticket says Row C seat 63, sit in the seat numbered ’63’ on the row labelled ‘C’. It really isn’t that hard, is it? I’ve heard a few arguments why you shouldn’t do that, all of them born of either arrogance or ignorance I’m afraid. Firstly, to anyone who says ‘we’ve never had to do it before’, that argument doesn’t hold up. Times change and football has changed, just because it was once okay to sit where you wanted doesn’t make it so now. It was once okay to spend old five-pound notes or smack your kids, but it isn’t anymore. I understand some people want to sit with their mates, but allocated seating makes that difficult, that is a fact of life. This issue has been threatening to blow up for a while, it was only going to take a person fighting back rather than meekly accepting mob rule for it to ignite. Yesterday, from what I’m told, one person fought back.
Those who say unallocated seating should be the norm are not showing our hosts any respect either. Barnet called for allocated seating, on that basis they allowed us 1,900 tickets. Do you think we’ll get that if we play them next season? No. Well done, your actions will have caused us to have reduced allocation, not just at The Hive but, I imagine, at clubs we are set to play this season too. Whether you agree with it or not, if the event is designated as allocated seating you have to go along with that.
If you’re there to watch the game, surely sitting in your allocated seat isn’t too much of a hardship? Aside from perhaps 50 seats directly behind the goal, it was 100% unrestricted views. For the record, my seat was directly behind the goal, just one row up. When I sat down, the far touch-line was only visible through the nets. I didn’t go and sit where I wanted though, because my seat was allocated.
If you came into my house and I asked you to take your shoes off, would you do it? If you went to a wedding and fancied being nearer the top table, would you just go and sit where you wanted? The answer, in both instances, is surely no. You would respect your hosts wishes. Why is a football match in 2018 any different?
I know those who disagree will tell me to ‘bore off’ or worse, but your actions caused the rest of the problems, there is absolutely no doubt about that. Barnet stewards are well-known for being heavy-handed and all they needed was a reason. However, I absolutely do not excuse their behaviour either. Sadly, as was the case on the field, there were no winners yesterday, nobody who could take the moral high ground. I’m not saying our fans were entirely at fault because that wasn’t the case, nor am I excusing the stewards at all. To manhandle a disabled man is absolutely abhorrent and the treatment I witnessed of the young lad in the toilets was bordering on assault. Still, had we all sat in our allocated seats, there would have been no flash point to begin with. Maybe then the stewards would have found one, maybe, but we didn’t give them the chance to be aggressive without provocation, did we?
Now, before anyone jumps on this and starts criticising the 617, this has absolutely nothing to do with them. I’m not entirely sure why they even got brought into the discussion last night. The video I saw on social media featured a prominent 617 member clearly asking everyone to calm down, moments before a steward appeared to lunge at a fan. Later, as I saw all hell breaking loose at the back of the stands, I saw another member again appealing for calm. I’ve spoken to a couple of their other lads today and they weren’t even sat near the problem area, they were in their allocated seats elsewhere in the ground. Do you know why that is? Because they’re not the evil group of hooligans some of our support want to believe.
The scenes later on in the afternoon were the sort of thing I hate to see. Fans fighting amongst themselves, innocent fans being thrown out, agitators winding the whole situation up and good honest people, such as our SLO team, being caught in the middle of the hostilities. It was a three-way war too, not a simple ‘fans versus stewards’ experience. There’s also the police and even amongst those groups there are good and bad individuals. I was surprised to see police simply filming the situation whilst stewards acted on it, especially when said stewards began acting in (what I believe was) an inflammatory manner. When our disabled fan got knocked over, why did the police simply continue to film? Are they using a tactic of non-engagement in the stands? I do know that is something being tried at certain grounds, rather than removing people for certain offences immediately, they are dealt with at an opportune moment in order to avoid a large conflict situation. However, standing at the front of a stand, visibly doing nothing other than film and (in the case of one officer) smirk, does not avoid conflict, not one bit.
I was sworn at by a steward for simply filming what happened at half time. I filmed it not because I’m a voyeur or because I wanted some sensational footage, but because I wanted all parties who acted appropriately to have some evidence to fall back on, should they need it. As I filmed, we scored and that prompted one big, ugly bugger in a hi-viz jacket to suggest my attention was now elsewhere and I could f*ck off. There was no need for that, sadly I’d stopped filming and haven’t caught that on camera. However, when the first young lad was thrown out from the toilets a police officer came over to the fence and explained to me that their investigation wasn’t just into the ejected fan, but also steward behaviour. He was friendly, understood the anger being directed at stewards and explained his limited powers once a fan had been ejected. He took time to do that and he seemed a decent sort, which perhaps highlights the different personalities within the different groups. Nobody can say ‘all stewards are idiots’ or ‘all coppers are after us’ because it isn’t true. It’s like saying ‘all Lincoln fans caused yesterday’s troubles’, it is a sweeping generalisation which shows ignorance of the situation’s complexity.
I’m afraid to say, but we are a fan base in serious danger of ripping itself apart. Many more afternoons like yesterday will see our allocations cut and that will impact everyone, including the players. We should be talking about a relatively poor game, but we’re not. For every social media post about the match, there are ten about the incidents and on every single on, a Lincoln fan is abusing a Lincoln fan. If this is the price of success, do we really want it?
This isn’t a new issue either, it has been bubbling away ever since 7,000 odd turned up at Oldham and seats became hard to come by. The ‘sit where you want’ argument has been going since Burnley away, incidentally the first time I saw large-scale drug use in the stands. Whilst I didn’t witnessed it first hand at Barnet, I’ve seen plenty of evidence to suggest it goes on. I was one of the last out of the Burnley game and little plastic bags with powdered residue lined the stand. I saw it again at Wycombe earlier in the season and I have no doubt at all that reports of it happening yesterday are accurate. Perhaps fans with a little bit of bugle up their nose are more prone to fighting, who knows?
All of this is timed incredibly badly, Mansfield away has an allocated singing section which would alleviate some of the issues. You know what though? I don’t think it will sort them all out. I don’t think the fans who will buy in the singing section are the root cause of the problem, it’s the ones who turn up and think they can do what they want, where they want. The ones who are to blame couldn’t care less about singing sections, allocated seating or rules and regulations. When questioned, they don’t care whether they fight with stewards, police or other Lincoln fans either. They’re erroneously referred to as the 617 and that sparks further divide on social media too.
Off on a slight tangent, but who was the ‘fan’ who immediately got to the front of the stands and began abusing Farman after the goal? What on earth did he think he was going to achieve? It was a weak goal to concede all round, but one of our own pointed his walking stick at Farms and began yelling abuse, not just once but on two or three occasions. I’m staggered that, given how quickly we’ve ascended the league and rebuilt the club, fans still feel fit to give that sort of abuse to our own player, especially in the early part of the game. There’s a real problem amongst some of our fans, after all he wasn’t provoked by a steward nor was he a victim of targeted policing. He was, for want of a better phrase, absolutely out-of-order. Again, I know I’ll get the ‘I paid my money, I’ll act how I want’ rhetoric. Whatever, if your money means you shout abuse at our own player maybe you should stay at home and let fans who want to enjoy the game come in your place.
I’m not sure where we go from here as an entire fan base. I’m not sure what the club can actually do to stop the issue arising again. All I know is yesterday petrol got poured onto a smouldering fire and from here, it isn’t going to get any better. Already fractured police and fan relations will become increasingly strained, our reputation as travelling support will begin to define all of us, not just the few causing trouble and other clubs will treat us accordingly. It is a slippery slope, one at which we were stood on the edge of looking down. I fear that yesterday afternoon, a handful of Lincoln fans, a few over-zealous stewards and weak policing pushed us over the edge.
Featured picture by Graham Burrell