TWO Huddersfield Town fans have been given fresh hope of attending future matches after a watchdog said their indefinite suspension should be lifted.
The Independent Football Ombudsman investigated the case after the two season ticket holders complained that they had been unfairly excluded on an indefinite basis following the Category C home fixture, (the most serious category indicating potential trouble between rival fans), against West Ham on January 13.
In his six-page report, Ombudsman Prof Derek Fraser said the two fans also said they had also been unable to progress appeals against their exclusion bans and in addition were deprived of any refunds for the matches missed.
He said that the bans had arisen after police were deployed in the town centre to keep home and away fans separated and fearing an attack on visiting supporters by a crowd of home fans the police issued a section 35 dispersal order.
Sixteen supporters were affected by the order and the “Safety Officer noted several, (though not these two complainants), who were known to the club because of previous misdemeanours.
“The safety officer too took the view that all 16 posed a potential risk of disorder at the stadium and so sent letters to all of them excluding them for an indefinite period.”
However, “the two complainants protested that they had been innocently walking towards the John Smith’s Stadium on Leeds Road and had inadvertently joined a crowd of fellow supporters who became cordoned by the police and then were issued with the Dispersal Notice.
“They argued that they had complied peacefully with the order and that the club had no evidence to justify the bans imposed.”
The safety officer “admitted that the two complainants were not previously known to the club but argued that since the police had treated the supporters as a group equally in receipt of the order he would follow suit because at that point he lacked the evidence on which to make individual judgments.”
The club also pointed out they had been informed that unless they were convicted of a criminal offence “past experience suggested that the two complainants would in due course be readmitted to the stadium. They were free to purchase season tickets for 2018-19 and one had done so.”
In addition the club said that it believed there was “prima facie evidence of intent to become involved with the away supporters through the route taken through the town centre.
“Given their knowledge of the central streets, the officers point out that the group targeted the pub where the away supporters were drinking, rather than walking directly to the ground.
“Moreover, (since the Ombudsman’s visit to the stadium to meet the safety officer and operations director), club officials had viewed the CCTV record of the incidents from which they conclude that the complainants ‘had ample opportunity to walk away from the issues which they failed to take.’”
Despite this the report concludes that the complainants’ involvement “has already attracted sufficient sanction from the club and their suspension should be lifted.”
James Chisem, Huddersfield Town Supporters Association’s general secretary, said: “We are aware of the Independent Football Ombudsman’s report and are due to meet with the club in April to discuss our concerns about the process in place with regards to stadium banning orders.”
Huddersfield Town Football Club have been approached for comment.