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05th Dec 2018

“We’ve had kids that have had flares caught in the hood of their anorak” – MUDSA request permanent protection at Old Trafford

Wayne Farry

Manchester United Disabled Supporters' Association

The Manchester United Disabled Supporters’ Association (MUDSA) has requested that the club install permanent netting behind the disabled section at Old Trafford due to fears over supporter safety.

There have been a number of incidents in recent seasons involving projectiles thrown from the away end, which have put disabled United fans at risk.

The issue dates back to the Europa League match against Saint Etienne in February 2017, MUDSA Secretary Chas Banks told JOE, when there was “mayhem” in the area of the ground reserved for away fans and disabled supporters.

“It was mayhem. They were throwing flares, and because the disabled section is directly underneath, we’re the ones that are in the firing line,” said Banks.

“I’m not suggesting for a second that these people are throwing them at us because we’re disabled – they’re throwing them at the pitch or at fans beyond us – but we’re the ones that get stuck in the middle.”

Previously, away fans were placed in different areas of Old Trafford depending on the visiting team in question. But since the policy has changed – with the club allocating a specific area of the stadium behind and above Manchester United’s disabled fans’ section – it has repeatedly posed a risk to safety and enjoyment.

The change in circumstance has forced the club to address the impact that some away fans’ behaviour can have on disabled supporters.

“(The club have) decided to revise expansion plans for the disabled sections. Behind the away section they’re building a concourse, so we can accommodate the 28 wheelchairs and the 28 ambulance disabled spaces that the club are supposed to provide according to the accessible stadia guide,” added Banks.

“Where we’re at now is that the position of the away fans is now a settled issue, whereas before it was a fluid issue. Because of that the issue of netting came up.

“We’ve had kids that have had flares caught in the hood of their anorak, and it’s a scary business to be honest.”

The experience of the Saint Etienne match led MUDSA to request netting, which the club installed prior to the UEFA Champions League match against Juventus in October – a game in which there was relatively little trouble.

“It’s a dynamic situation and because Juventus beat us, the (away) fans were happy,” said Banks.

For the club’s home match against the Young Boys of Bern, MUDSA once again asked for temporary netting to be installed, in part due to the reputation of the Swiss side’s travelling support.

“They were throwing razor blades trapped in chewing gum, but the nets stopped the flares coming through. It makes you feel more secure when you’re sitting there, because they are the most vulnerable people in the stadium.”

Banks admits that it was this game which left MUDSA feeling that permanent netting was the only solution to protect fans.

“I put in a request and asked ‘Can we have this as a permanent installation in the Premier League?’ and the club said ‘Nobody’s ever done that’. (But) you can’t predict it any more.”

This is the key issue for MUDSA: that it impossible to tell which away sections are going to launch projectiles simply based on historic behaviour.

The prevailing wisdom is that United remain a big day out for away fans, which can occasionally lead to trouble inside the stadium.

Having put the request into the club, whose previous dealings with MUDSA Banks has described as “brilliant”, the group now await a response.