Dons Trust Board member Cormac van der Hoeven hopes that in the coming weeks supporters will feel reassured by visible changes around the stadium.
The UK footballing landscape has had a particularly troublesome few months. In December last year, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling was allegedly racially abused during a Premier League match against Chelsea, while some fans of our eventual FA Cup conquerors, Millwall, were recorded using a racist term that is derogatory to the Pakistani community in their fourth-round tie.
North of the border, Hearts banned two fans after a Motherwell player was racially abused during a December SPL match. There have also been a number allegations of anti-Semitic abuse at recent games. Ultimately, all clubs are susceptible to being tarnished by such incidents, which may well put off individuals who have never been along on a match day.
At AFC Wimbledon, with our pending move back to Plough Lane, we must ensure that all members of our diverse community feel safe and welcome at our club. This is of paramount importance, particularly as we look to expand our fanbase. In the same way that we hold our players to the highest of Wimbledon standards, we are equally demanding of our fans.
Following a number of recent reported incidences of racist and un-inclusive comments from the terraces at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) group, led by Jane Lonsdale, has been working with the club and the Trust to promote the revised wording of club documents, in particular to expand its existing statement for guidance on reporting any matchday (and wider) abuse. This had been agreed after consultation within the group at the end of last year. Previously the statement covered racism and homophobia specifically, but it now includes any form of abuse indirectly or directly targeted at any member of our footballing community. (The statement is included in every matchday programme.)
As has been publicised, both the Football Club Board and the Dons Trust Board were appalled at these isolated incidents of abuse in recent weeks. This behaviour is condemned and is not welcome at our club. These incidents have been discussed at FCB and DTB meetings, and actions taken immediately. Jane Lonsdale met with Club Secretary David Charles to discuss what could be done going forward.
With Tim Hillyer, a former DTB member who is now on the board of the Unified Football Supporters’ Organisation (the successor to SD and the FSF), I have been attending the Metropolitan Police Football Unit Independent Advisory Group’s briefings about incidents at football matches. These briefings make it clear how seriously incidents are taken, and the very real consequences that transgressors face. Officers have spoken about their frustration when incidents are not reported. It should be noted that, with increased surveillance and stewarding on match days, it is now becoming easier to hold people to account retrospectively.
At our home games, supporters should not hesitate to notify a steward immediately about any incident of abuse that they witness. By texting or calling the matchday control room on 07704 649119, your anonymity can be protected. This number is operational on match days between 12.30 and 5.30 pm (and from 6.00 pm for evening kick-offs).
By reporting an incident immediately, it can be dealt with straight away and followed up effectively. On forthcoming match days this number will become increasingly visible around the stadium, and has been publicised again on the official website. In the medium term, supporters should see an increased visibility of this number at the turnstiles and on the backs of the pitchside advertising hoardings.
Looking further ahead, as we communicate with an expanded fanbase in our wider community, the club and Trust social media will become increasingly important in making potential first-time supporters aware of our positive, inclusive matchday experience. And if the club and Trust successfully lead on these initiatives, the message will spread across fan sites through retweeting, liking and sharing posts.
There will be further meetings of the D&I Group in the coming months. Since August the group has been meeting in the President’s Lounge after the matchday presentations. If you feel you can contribute to the group or would like more information, please email Jane or email Cormac.