IMUSA - Independent Manchester United Supporters Association

Behind the windows of Manchester there is an insane love of football, of celebration

- Eric Cantona

IMUSA news

IMUSA to boycott the Independent Football Ombudsman

30th September 2010

IMUSA has taken the decision to boycott the Independent Football Ombudsman until such time as his office demonstrates to us that they have adopted procedures that are transparently fair and based on the default assumption that fans making complaints to them are innocent of wrongdoing unless there is clear evidence to show otherwise

The official complaints procedure is a trial of endurance that requires fans to approach first the club, then the Premier League and finally the Independent Football Ombudsman.

IMUSA’s experience is that clubs very frequently treat fans unfairly but only very rarely concede that they have done so. In recent times some clubs have, in addition to attempting to conceal evidence that shows them in a bad light, also developed a tactic for preventing fans from using the Data Protection Act to demonstrate their own innocence by denying that the requested video evidence ever existed or claiming that it has been ‘lost’.

In consequence it is often the case that the only evidence clubs are able to produce in support of their claims of a fans’ supposed wrongdoing is the word of the steward who caused the fan to complain about ill-treatment in the first place.

This is clearly unacceptable.

IMUSA saw a big increase in our casework load following on from the anti-Glazer protests that marked most games last season from mid-January onwards. These cases almost all involved complaints of stewards behaving badly towards our fans, sometimes involved stewards assaulting fans and in many cases saw fans being illegally searched and having their season tickets confiscated prior to ejection.

The club concedes that none of the fans treated in this way were violent themselves and that the worst of their ‘misdemeanours’ was to wear green and gold scarves, unfurl oversized flags (with Love United, Hate Glazer written on them) or sing relatively mildly worded anti-Glazer songs and encourage others to do the same.

Lack of ‘due process’ meant however that the club, in the guise of Director of Venue, Karl Evans, was able to withhold confiscated season tickets, sometimes for weeks and to refuse to refund affected fans for the games they were forced to miss in consequence.

Our standard approach in this context was to advise aggrieved fans to go down the ‘official complaints’ route and to give them our support when they did.

We gave this advice because although we had reservations about the way the ombudsman was appointed (i.e., being transferred straight over from his role in the now defunct Independent Football Commission without going through any kind of transparent selection or appointments procedure) we had no reason to question the neutrality implied by the use of the word “Independent” in the IFO’s title.

Regrettably this situation has now changed following the IFO’s support for the club’s version of events in one recent case, based only on the word of the steward who confiscated an aggrieved fan’s ticket (video evidence not available) and we were dismayed to see that whilst the ombudsman went to Old Trafford to speak with club officials personally about this matter, his only attempt to obtain the fan’s verbal account of his side of the story was to get a second-hand summary of his deputy’s telephone conversation with the aggrieved fan’s wife.

This and the recent email exchanges between IMUSA and the IFO have made it clear to us that the ombudsman does not by default assume that the fan making a complaint to them is innocent until proven to be otherwise and that he places no burden of proof on clubs accusing their fans of wrongdoing.

When pressed further on this point the IFO’s reply was that;

“I am unable to respond further, save to point out that the IFO is not a judicial tribunal and, like other Ombudsman schemes, has to decide cases on the balance of probability in the light of the evidence, which is reviewed impartially.”

We do not accept the paternal view expressed in this reply that the IFO’s rulings must be assumed to be impartial just because he says they are.

As a result, IMUSA has taken the decision to boycott the Independent Football Ombudsman until such time as his office demonstrates to us that they have adopted procedures that are transparently fair and based on the only reasonable starting point that the fans making complaints to them are assumed to be innocent of wrongdoing until those that say that is not the case are able to provide substantive evidence to show otherwise.

Football is in too parlous a state to tolerate an ombudsman who is content to see the role of his office diminished to that of a box ticking exercise

or who chooses to accept by default and without corroboration the word of security staff who often don’t even have enough respect for authority to comply with the rules of their own regulatory body (c.f. CES stewards at Old Trafford failing en masse to prominently display their SIA licenses as they are required to do under the terms of holding these licenses) or who have shown themselves willing to even compromise fans' safety in their attempts to suppress the anti-Glazer protests.

If the Ombudsman wishes to discuss this matter further we invite him to contact us.

In the meantime members are advised not to hand over their season tickets if requested to do so by stewards inside the ground.

They have no way of knowing if you have one or not and have no rights to search you once you have gone past the turnstiles.