Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

Did Crawley Town get it right?

Posted by John Beech on February 18, 2011

As the excitement mounts over a certain FA Cup tie, one story in the news seems to have become just a flash in the pan.  However, it strikes me as one that has some puzzling, even disturbing, dimensions that deserve exploring.  And there are a number of unanswered questions.

I’m referring not to the decision of Crawley Town to accept sponsorship from The Sun (1) – I wonder if they would have been so eager if it were Liverpool rather than Manchester United – or to the fact that a significant share holding is owned by as yet unidentified ‘minority offshore shareholders’ (2), but to the infamous Munich video (3).

As Daniel Taylor reported in The Guardian reported (4):

Crawley posted the video on YouTube, as well as the club’s website, without realising that one of the people dancing by the stage frequently makes aircraft gestures to mock the tragedy in 1958 when the plane carrying United’s team crashed on the runway at Munich, killing 23 of the 44 passengers, including eight members of the team, on the way back from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade.

The video was filmed at Crawley’s ground last Tuesday, two days after the 53rd anniversary of the tragedy, and the same man can also be seen simulating a plane crashing into the ground and holding up his fingers to count one, then nine, then five and eight to symbolise 1958.

Clearly the fan’s actions are completely indefensible and go way beyond bad taste and deeply into the offensive.

Taylor also reports:

There were several takes for the video and Crawley have replaced the original one with a version that does not feature the Munich jibes. The club’s information is that the man responsible is a Crystal Palace supporter.

“The people who made the video are absolutely devastated,” Williams [Crawley Town Chief executive] said. “I’ve had Mike Dobie on the phone in tears because none of us had seen it. It was intended as a charity song and we would never condone behaviour like that. We have found another take missing the idiot who was responsible.”

If there were several takes of the video, it strikes me as extraordinary that no-one noticed the fan’s actions and that they weren’t noticed when someone was deciding which take to select for publishing on the website.  Have heads rolled for this incompetence, I wonder?

Interesting too is Crawley Town’s assertion that the person involved was a Crystal Palace supporter.  If it was as simple as that, why then was he present?  Is banning him from Crawley Town a punishment?

He has been banned from Crawley Town for life, a punishment you might well see as a reasonable response.  But it certainly seems inconsistent with the ban handed out to another miscreant in the news recently – the Stevenage Town fan who, on the pitch, punched one of the players of his own team and has received a ban from grounds not for life but for six years (5).  At least one of these two bans seems to me disproportionate.

There is also the issue of what Crawley Town then did – they informed the police.  The ‘fan’ has now been arrested “on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm or distress” (6).  Whether you consider this reasonable or not, it is in marked contrast to the fact that Sky did not report Andy Gray and Richard Keys to the police, nor was there police involvement following this little gem from Bernie Ecclestone (7):

In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done.

The latter in particular is surely far more likely to be considered as ‘causing harassment, alarm or distress‘, yet Ecclestone continues unabated as F1 supremo.  Again, I am not in any way defending the actions on the Crawley Town video or Bernie Ecclestone; I am pointing out that there is an inconsistency in the proportionality of response.

The mutual loyalty between ‘fan’ and ‘club’ is a moral minefield.  In this case, club has to accept some responsibility for the ‘fan’s’ actions because they broadcast them, not in a live broadcast but in a chosen take of the video which they produced.  I pose the question though of whether Crawley Town’s responses, through which it is the ‘fan’ who receives all the blame and all the punishment, are entirely appropriate.

3 Responses to “Did Crawley Town get it right?”

  1. Ian Ditchfield said

    Clubs are private businesses, and I have no problem with them banning someone who sets out to cause offence for as long as they like – provided that the person is being truly offensive, and not for example just disagreeing with the way the club is being run. It’s not like the legal system was being inconsistent, there is no reason why Crawley and Stevenage (to take two clubs that you quote) should be consistent with each other.

    What I do find sad is that Crawley should seek to pass the blame on to another club … “he’s nothing to do with us, he supports Crystal Palace”. Obviously the person concerned does, or did, associate himself with Crawley; equally it goes without saying that his gesture would be just as unwelcome at Palace.

  2. […] Did Crawley Town get it right? Football Management […]

  3. […] is not a topic that I have frequently blogged on.  In fact the only previous occasion was when I compared the Crawley Town lifetime ban, imposed on an idiot who they claimed […]

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