The mayor of Bruges has responded to an open letter from Manchester United Supporters’ Trust which raised questions about the treatment fans faced during their time in the city last week.
United’s loyal away following traveled to Belgium last week as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were held to a 1-1 draw by Club Brugge in the Europa League. The second leg takes place this Thursday at Old Trafford.
Supporters described the trip as “the worst experience of a European away game they’d had for many years” with fans fearing for their safety.
MUST suggested the police instructed taxi drives to stay away from the ground rather than pick up United fans. The police used water cannons and barbed wire barriers — and delayed traveling fans from exiting the stadium.
However, Bruges mayor De Fauw has given a disappointing response, insisting that the treatment of United fans was standard procedure for European matches.
“We wanted to keep the Brugge and United supporters separate. That is why the visiting fans had to walk to the stadium.
“That the exits were closed is a standard procedure for risk matches. The fans have to stay a little longer, stay in the stands, again to keep the supporters of both teams apart.”
MUST letter in full
The Mayor of Brugge
We are the Manchester United Supporters Trust – the official recognised group representing Manchester United supporters. We work with both our own club and local police force, Greater Manchester Police, on matters of supporter safety, and liaise with both regularly to ensure, while attending matches, our supporters experience is a safe one.
Manchester United have been regular participants in European Competitions for decades. We are very proud of our contribution to European Football. We are also proud of our travelling supporters and their behaviour overseas. Many fans will make significant sacrifices to be able to follow MUFC abroad and we do so as ambassadors of both our club and country, leaving behind us – we hope – a positive impression of MUFC and the people of our city and beyond. We recognise that we are privileged to visit so many towns and cities around the world and especially in Europe and many of us take the opportunity of these trips to embrace local cultures and traditions and bring home positive and happy memories.
It is therefore with regret and with grave concern that we write this open letter to you all, but as representatives of law abiding supporters and members we have no choice other than to highlight, in this way, the deplorable treatment we were subjected to during our visit to Brugge, by the local police and stewards. It is not an exaggeration to say that many fans were in genuine fear for their safety at times throughout the evening.
As it always is on our travels, our only intention was to visit your City, enjoy ourselves, contribute to your local economy and, of course support our club and yet we returned home with an impression of Brugge that should shame all those responsible for our safety and security. Many of us who’ve travelled the world following MUFC are of the opinion that this was the worst experience of a European away game they’d had for many years – and our previous recent visit to Brugge was a low point at the time.
Given our exemplary collective behaviour and the complete lack of evidence to the contrary, please help us to understand why the following was considered necessary, appropriate and proportionate;
– There was no transport available to us – we have numerous reports that the Police instructed taxi drivers to stay away from the ground and not to pick up Manchester United fans. It was a long walk in horrendous weather conditions from the town to the stadium. A significant number of our supporters were elderly or had mobility issues which meant this was a big problem. Local authorities arranging buses for us is the norm at most of our away games. Instead, Police were stopping buses before reaching the ground and removing United fans forcibly and telling them to walk.
– The crowd management in close proximity to the stadium was appalling with many of our fans complaining they’d been deliberately sent in the wrong direction on long detours. Is there no coordinated plan from the club, stewards and Police for visiting supporters?
– The almost universal hostility from Police when they were approached for assistance/directions further suggests this was part of a wider and deliberate policy of provocation. Why were the Police instructed to act in such antagonistic fashion?
– Why was it felt necessary to deploy a water cannon, where was the evidence that one may have been necessary?
– Why was it necessary to use barbed wire barriers for a football match?
– Why were fans unable to leave the stadium?
– Why were exit gates locked leading to the build up of crowds and the risk of a crush developing both at the exit from the concourse and at the bottom of the stairs?
– The head steward who held the gate key said he had been instructed by Police to lock the gate and refuse to allow supporters to exit – why were these instructions given?
– In the second half the same head steward – who appeared frightened by developments and said this would be the last night he would work here – revealed he no longer had the exit key as the Police had taken it from him and there was no-one near the gate who could open it even in an emergency. Surely the designated key holder should be identifiable and in position to open the gate if required, at all times? Why is it even necessary to lock an exit gate during the game except as part of a holdback for security reasons which should only be put in place if there is evidence to support its necessity? Aside from being a further provocative act by the Police is this not contrary to safety regulations?
– Why is netting used when there have been no incidents of missiles being thrown by Manchester United fans on previous visits?
– Why didn’t all Police and Stewards have working radios? Shouldn’t this be standard in case of an emergency?
Finally, we would like to reassure Club Brugge supporters that they will be extended a warm welcome to Manchester next week and will categorically not experience the same barbed wire, water cannons, poor crowd management, stewarding and Policing that our fans had to endure when visiting your city. Brugge supporters visiting Old Trafford will also have an unobstructed view of the pitch with no netting and a roof to keep them dry should it rain.
We would be embarrassed if visitors to Manchester were treated as described above – are you not ashamed of the way visitors to your city were treated?
Poor treatment is one issue but the safety concerns go far beyond that and we will be sending a report to UEFA outlining the issues our supporters have sent to us. However an early response to the concerns outlined above would be welcome to reassure future visitors to your city will not be subjected to such poor and on occasion dangerous treatment.
MUST – the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust