Date:Wednesday April 25 2012
Flag Gate - The sequel
On Monday 23rd I contributed an article titled 'Freedom of speech at the Villa?
It was a recount of the heavy handed nature of the Support Prevention Officers (SPO's) and their desire to prevent any anti McLeish banners in Villa Park even at the expense of fan safety. It also recounted an assault on my daughter. Something that the club are now investigating. I spoke directly to The Sports Editor of the Birmingham Mail to report the situation and advised him who was dealing with this claim in the club, in order for him to be able to talk to the club and ask for their opinions. I was advised that this is the sort of incident that must be made public and that they would be contacting me for the story in full. I haven't been contacted and I believe that this is part of the reporting ban that the club have agreed with the local paper.
Onto last night. After I was refused access to previous games with my banner asking for McLeish to leave Villa, I decided that I would 'sell' the flag as it was clear that I was being a naughty boy by supporting my club by disagreeing with the appointment of a manager who was appointed against the wishes of the fans and after I had already purchased my family's season tickets. The flag as I now understand has been passed between other fans in the Holte End and my daughter, who I am led to believe have all been bringing the flag to games. I think that there was agreement between these people that the flag would only be displayed at the end of games because there was a common belief that the first action of fans on matchday is to support the team.
Last night a friend, my daughter and I attended the game. It was my friends first visit to Villa Park as I like to spread the word and introduce new supporters to the club, as I do several times a season. We all entered the ground as per normal and made our way to our seats. Within two minutes we were all approached by a team of 6 support prevention officers (SPO's) and asked to open our coats and show the contents of our bags.
Obviously we were seen as a threat to the club because a family of Villa supporters, one a 16 year old girl who has been a season ticket holder for 12 years is obviously a danger!!!! Lets not be beat about the bush though, we were identified and picked out because I have previously had the gall to bring a flag to the ground asking for McLeish to leave. But as I have already said, I wouldn't be a naughty boy and bring a flag that the club have told me I am not allowed in with. For the record, the senior SPO told me 'if you want freedom of speech then that is for outside Villa Park. You are not allowed this freedom within the ground'. I swear on my daughters life this is what the senior SPO told my daughter and I.
Anyway, we got to our seats ready for the game. The SPO who assaulted my daughter on Saturday was allocated another part of the ground (I take that as an admission guilt) but there were several more SPO's in position to guard against this family of hell raisers who actually support the club through thick and thin. What made me chuckle was that they even introduced a new SPO who I presume was there to do the intimidation. He was a bigger guy (fat) who took great delight in trying to 'stare out' me and a my daughter. No problem, I met the challenge head on, had word in his ear and put him straight, he backed off. Until we scored that is. He wasn't happy with me celebrating on the security bars. Ooops, bit naughty again there. Celebrating a Villa goal. But that is the job of the SPO's.
What was also amusing was that the club also introduced new SPO's at the bottom of the gangways at the front of the Upper Holte to prevent any naughty people displaying flags that may disagree with our custodians choice of manager.
After 70 minutes there was a bit of a verbal shouting match in the stairwell leading into the seats by where we sit. And what became clear was that a supporter who had been to the toilet was prevented access back into his seats without a search. By all accounts he had an anti McLeish flag under his coat. The naughty man!! The club refused him access back to his seats and he was a bit irate because he was at the game with his 7 year old son who they were preventing him access to. I enquired as to the problem and the SPO's then asked me to go and look after this mans son!!! Can you get your breath? The long and short of it is that the flag was confiscated and he was allowed back to his seat. But at the end of the game they refused to give this man back his property. I am not a lawyer but isn't that theft?? A weapon I would understand. A piece of cloth though???
The good news though is that all the efforts over the last few games has worked. The fans have turned. The flag is no longer required. McLeish's job is now untenable beyond the end of the season, even if we survive. He is in effect a dead man walking. Personally I think he should go now and Kmac (short term only) should take the job until the end of the season. This would guarantee a 40,000 crowd of passionate support against Spurs, rather than the negativity of protest and disillusionment that will inevitably now happen.
The 19th minute.
Date:Wednesday April 25 2012
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