Health and Safety gone mad

31 08 2011

Until two Sundays ago I’d had been unaware there were major problems with flags at football matches.Before then I’d been living, loving, breathing fresh air, carousing, buying second hand books, unconcerned about the new thinking about flags. At about 2pm on that Sunday my carefree existence was about to begin its epilogue; one of Neath’s  stewards posed a very strange question;

Me: “Can I put my flags up over there?” (“over there” was an open terrace)

Steward: “Have you got a fire certificate for them?”

 

I thought the steward was making it up, how much damage could a flag that’s on fire do on an open terrace? I thought his question was merely a vulgar display of power, another example of south Walian rugby stewards’ virulent hatred of football fans.  

Then I did a bit of research about fire certificates and football flags and I discovered that stewards have been able to ask for fire certificates for months (as usual we are behind fashion in Wales!). The discovery lead to a blogpost title that I thought was the preserve of Daily Mail. Now I’m worried about the future of our flag days.

I automatically perceived that the new thinking would spell problems for the British flag displaying community. I saw a problem that runs from Scotland …

1. “Yesterday at the semi final we were refused by police and stewards from taking our 2 big raith flags into hampden as we didnt have a FIRE SAFETY CERTIFICATE. :banghead: I am just wondering if anyone going to either scotland games there or cup games have had a similar problem.We were raging at being treated this way in fact one of our young lads was almost in tears at the thought of not getting into see the game.We said ok we will leave them outside if you look after them as we couldnt get to the bus as drivers were in the stadium but stewards refused and policeman walked away.So in the end we had to leave £1500 worth of flags with a merchandise vendor who we had never met before and for all we know could have stole them never to see him again.The boy was great though and looked after them till i came out after the game to collect them.I am gonna be contacting the press and the sfa about this cos i have never heard so much pish in my life going to the fitba.”

2. An Aberdeen message board

Just been told that no large flags will be allowed into Hampden unless you can prove they are made of fire proof material and have a fire safety certificate. This means no flags will be allowed in as its more of less impossible to get a fire certificate.

This is the same for Scotland games.”

… through Leicester  …

“Hello, I have a pretty big City flag (on my photo) and recently took it to Sheff Utd away but was not allowed to put it up as steward wanted to see a specific certificate which i didnt have. I have since got back to BarmyFlags who made it for me and they want £25 + VAT to issue me with one, all their new flags now come with it apparently but the older ones have to be sent back. I paid £200 for the flag so it is a decent quality and feel a bit aggrieved to have to send it back and pay more for it, can anyone help or had similar problems? Cheers.”

… all the way to Exeter .

                    “It’s been apparent that during the course of this season some grounds have denied entry to flags without fire safety documents. This being the case for Eric, The Stanno Flag & others.For me this all first came about when I requested to take Eric or the Stanno Flag to Argyle last December for the JPT match. I contacted Home Park purely to ask if there was somewhere he could be stored during the match but was then point blankly told that without a said Fire Certificate they wouldn’t be allowed into the ground.However with the Stanno Flag I contacted many a ground in advance to enquire of the same and was told that I should just bring him along. These included Huddersfield, Oldham, Brentford, Yeovil, & Hereford, there’s a few more which slip my mind. It’s not a regulated thing merely a choice made by the clubs safety officer but certainly becoming more popular and I’m sure at some point something official will come about.I’m aware of a lot smaller flags being denied entry to various grounds this season and those interested can also contact AA Flags for a quote to have it sprayed and issued with the necessary docs.

On production of the Stanno Flag it simply wasn’t something that I thought about and therefore it wasn’t in my request to AA Flags. Perhaps in hindsight that was a bad thing however at the time I was caught up in the adrenalin and emotion of ensuring it was completed in time for the Bristol Rovers match, the first since Adam’s passing.

Somehow I need to raise £300 this summer, the quoted cost, for the fire retardant spray treatment it requires, to almost certainly allow it to come anywhere with us next season. This will also issue it with the necessary Fire Safety Certificate which would be supplied by AA flags, it’s manufacturer. I would still out of courtesy, prior to departure, make contact with the necessary club advising that it will travel as some away ends simply aren’t big enough to cope with it. Hope this helps and if anybody has any ideas on how I could generate the funds for the above then let me know”

While these posts could be queried as the outpourings of the bovine masses, the cold, black and white, irrefutable language of official policies suggest that these worries are not merely the  exaggerated ramblings of internet warriors. Here’s Middlesbrough’s position for example;

Boro’s Banner Guidelines

As of July 19 2011

BORO are committed to helping supporters make the Riverside environment as colourful as possible, whilst also taking seriously their responsibilities for the safety of all fans.

 

Middlesbrough Football Club Flags, Banners & Surfers Policy

 

Middlesbrough Football Club acknowledges that it has a commitment to protect all supporters whilst contributing to a positive matchday experience. We know that many supporters like to display banners and flags when visiting the Riverside and we will always be as accommodating as possible.

However, in the interests of the safety and enjoyment for all supporters, fans should adhere to the following policy regarding banners and flags:

 

Flags, Surfers & Banners – General

 

1. The Club reserves the right to refuse to allow flags, surfers or banners to be displayed particularly if content is considered to be offensive, discriminatory, defamatory or inflammatory.

2. Any item that the Club or any of its employees believe could potentially be used as a weapon and/or compromise public safety is strictly prohibited and will be confiscated.

 

Flags

 

1. Flags should be no bigger than 150cm in depth or width.

2. Anything above these measurements will be classed as a banner and will therefore require a fire certificate and will need to be registered with the Club (see Surfers & Banners).

3. The flag pole should be no bigger than 7mm in diameter and 1 metre in length. The flag pole material should be wood or plastic and be rounded at the ends.

4. Flags should be presented to stewards prior to entry to the stadium where they will be inspected and approved prior to entry.

5. The Club reserve the right to confiscate any flags brought into the stadium without being approved prior to entry.

6. Supporters wishing to introduce flags on poles longer than 1 metre must contact the club in advance via email to supporters@mfc.co.uk Subject to advance agreement with the Club, such flags poles may be waved prior to kick-off but must not obstruct the views of others and under no circumstances are to be waved after kickoff.

7. Flags which are not subject to Section 6 above may generally be waved in the Stadium; however, the Club reserves the right, if appropriate, to ask supporters to resist from waving flags in certain circumstances.

Surfers & Banners

 

1. Materials measuring more than 150cm x 150cm will be considered as banners.

2. All banners and surfers should be made from fire-retardant material and a fire certificate must be produced. Proof of certification may be required whenever they are brought into the stadium.

3. On occasion, where a Club designated sterile area (e.g. empty block of seats) is available within the Riverside Stadium, it may be possible for banners to be placed in the sterile area.Permission to do so must first be obtained from the Club in advance via email to supporters@mfc.co.uk or, in circumstances where this is not possible, by a senior steward prior to entry on a matchday.

4. Banners will not be allowed where they may block advertising, signage, exit routes, restrict the views of other supporters or in any way compromise the safe operation of the stadium.

5. It is the responsibility of supporters who bring banners and surfers into the stadium to ensure they are securely fastened at all times.The Club reserves the right to remove any articles that have not been appropriately secured or become loose during a match.

6. Big surfers / banners should be kept on site at the Riverside Stadium and issued to supporters on matchdays.Any such banners and surfers should be handed to stewards or taken to a designated area immediately after use.

7. The use of surfers or surfer-style banners designed to be passed over supporters’ heads, will not be allowed after kick-off.

8. Supporters wishing to introduce new surfers and banners must contact the Club in advance via email to supporters@mfc.co.uk. The banner/surfer must be presented to the Club at least three working days before match day with the appropriate fire certificate. The banner/surfer must also be presented prior to entry to the stadium where it will be inspected by a senior steward.

9. Any surfers or banners brought into the stadium without being approved by the Club will be confiscated.

10. A register of banners and surfers which meet fire safety criteria will be kept by Supporter Services.A copy will be given to the Safety Officer to assist stewards in assessing approved articles.

11. The Club reserves the right to change this policy as it deems fit or as required by the local authority, Football Licensing Authority or any other body that helps to determine the safety of spectators at the Riverside Stadium.

12. Whilst the Club endeavours to take good care of banners and surfers that are brought into the stadium, it accepts no responsibility for any loss or damage that may occur at any time.”

 Hampden Park has regulations of a similar style;

“The Flag Policy for Hampden on Instructions of Hampden PLC and Strathclyde Police is that flags on I meter canes and Large flags which must be made of fire retardant material; and certified re same will be allowed. The Large flags should not obstruct passageways or advertising boards. Large flags can be place over the unoccupied seats in Sections B6 – B8.or as directed by the Stewards.”

As does Wembley;

“We know that many supporters like to display flags at football matches and Wembley Stadium will always be as accommodating as possible.

– Flags are not generally confiscated, however the obstruction of gangways, access routes, exits and entrances, health and safety signage and stairways is strictly forbidden.

– In the event of an emergency we must have all access and exit points clear.

– Wembley Stadium reserves the right to confiscate flags if they are very large or may compromise public safety, obscure someone’s view, a camera position or if a flag carries offensive, discriminatory or inflammatory messaging.

– Flags more than 250cm in size at their widest or longest section will not be allowed and flagpoles greater than 1m in length will not allowed.

– Any articles that could potentially be used as a weapon and/or compromise public safety are strictly prohibited.

– Permission must be sought in advance from the stadium and event owner to arrange use of the very large supporter flags that are designed to be passed over people’s heads. In such cases the flag must be flame retardant and the organiser bringing the flag into the stadium will need to provide the appropriate H&S certification.”

Flag Manufacturers also seem to be on the case too;

“If you specify in your request for a quotation or your order that your banners must be fire resistant, we will make sure they are treated with a flame retardant. This means that Faber Flags satisfies the most stringent European and international standards, including the German B-1 norm.

Read the section about the flame retardant treatment in the submenu and you will be safeguarded. We can also supply a certificate if this is required by the fire service. You must request this certificate with your order, as the issuing of a certificate is for specific orders only, and is therefore not done as standard”

Just after I read all this something heavy inside my flag displayers’  head fell on its side.

Then I did a bit more research and re-read some of the posts. The main problem is not that they have policy about large flags per se, they can get in the way after all, the problem is the lack of a uniform policy on the subject. One of the posts stated that there is a discretionary approach at the moment; individual clubs, or even individual stewards, are tougher on the issue of flags than others.  There’s a hint of the discretionary approach in a message  from Huddersfield Town‘s safety officer;

“Got a response a week back now, and kept meaning to post it on here…..

Thank you for you comments regarding the Safety Team banning flags and banners at the Galpharm Stadium. I do not know who gave you that inormation but let me assure you that you have been misinformed and that is certainly not the case.The Safety Team has agreed to the use of a large flag, provided by Huddersfield Town Football Club, for ‘surfing’ etc. This has been properly certified as required by the Safety Team and can be used with the Clubs consent. In fact it was used on a small number of occassions earlier this season but then for some reason interest in using it appears to have diminished.Standard sized flags can be brought into the stadium and draped over vacant seats etc but must not cover advertising netting or boards as companies have paid to advertise their names etc. As a regular spectator I feel sure you must have seen these flags being draped as I have described?Poles of any description cannot be brought into the Stadium as they are prevented by Ground Regulations issued by the Football Authorities. The only exception to the pole regulation was again agreed after consultation between the Safety Team, KSDL and Huddersfield Town Football Club that flags with poles that were purchased at the club shops could be brought in to the stadium.I hope this response clarifies the situation regarding flags.

Yours sincerely

John K Robinson
Safety Officer”

By this point I was a bit confused by it all. Are flags now considered dangerous? At what size does a flag become “large”?

Then I had some more thoughts on the whole idea. If we are beginning a new way of dealing with flags, I foresee more problems for the football fans of Britain. Will the new approach dilute the “match-going experience” even further? One of the above posts seems to suggest we are headed for more regulation.

Again I’ll state most of these rules are obvious – you don’t want Giant Flags getting in the way or causing problems blah, blah, blah – but they seem over the top in general. Firstly, there is absolutely no need to use legalese to regulate an informal custom. What is the precise need for the following rule in Middlesbrough’s policy?

“Any item that the Club or any of its employees believe could potentially be used as a weapon and/or compromise public safety is strictly prohibited and will be confiscated.”

Why is this rule hidden amongst the flag rules? It will already be in the general stadium rules. How can a flag be used as a weapon? Most fans don’t use poles with their large flags, large flags are either draped over seats or tied to railings. If they’re thinking of the smaller flags, what damage can a thin dowling rod pole actually do apart from giving the waver of it splinters? Call me weird but most fans aren’t Jason Bourne, they don’t have the ability to use 1,000 household objects to kill a man. 

The need for such a rule is negated by the fact that fans are segregated in most matches –  you can’t get to the opposition fans – and I can’t think of a reason why you would want to attack your own fans. The rule highlights the security paranoia (and distrust of fans) of the present age. Then we have this rule;

” The Club reserve the right to confiscate any flags brought into the stadium without being approved prior to entry” .

Think about this more carefully, think of what it actually means. The club can not only present you displaying your flag they can legally deprive you of your property without your permission. Your flag may have been a labour of love, it may have taken weeks of careful artistry but these ideas won’t cut any ice if it offends the sensibilities of the petty twats that will enforce the rules.

So what is “offensive”? It’s obvious that racism and fascism are beyond the pale but the context of “offensive” varies according to the audience. 

An Arsenal fan of Turkish Cypriot extraction  brought a northern Cyprus flag to Arsenal’s ground. Consequently Arsenal fans of a Greek Cypriot extraction “took umbrage” at the flag;

“………..Basically, although the club received a lot of complaints and a mostly Greek Cypriot petition protesting against the flying of flag of occupied northern Cyprus, the flag owner threatened to sue the club on grounds similar to freedom of speech (which is ironic as there is virtually none in Turkey or its occupation of northern Cyprus). As this flag represents Turkey’s occupation of the northern part of the island and the sovereign state of The Republic of Cyprus, it is not recognised as a legitimate republic by any country, or sporting body (FIFA, UEFA, etc) across the globe, as the Turkish invasion of 1974 and the continued occupation of the island breaks countless international laws. Hence there are no grounds for this flag being described as a national flag, because there is only one legitimate nation on the island of Cyprus. The so- called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ flag seems to represent more of a separatist political ideology than it does a country.

Is the Northern Cypriot flag really that offensive? The history of Cyprus since the 1960s can be interpreted in several ways. You could contrast the “horrific and illegal occupation of northern Cyprus” that offends Greek Cypriots with the  invasion of Cyprus by the Junta of the Greek Generals in 1962 that offends Turkish Cypriots. Both sides could pinpoint “atrocities” carried out by the others. Who can decide which side is right?

Arsenal may take the opinion that all flags were henceforth banned because they are just too controversial. Any flag can stir bad memories, should we ban them all? I can’t eat hot dogs because of some unfortunate memories involving a nightclub toilet and some sangria, shall I write to Arsenal and complain if they deign to sell hots dogs because the smell makes me nauseous? Football kits can bring out the worst in football fans, should we ban them because some people become enraged when they see  people wearing another club’s shirt celebrate a goal? As far as I know the Northern Cypriot flag is not banned and it does not contain a Swastika.

So we come to the question of who decides whether things are “acceptable”?  Can you trust club officials to decide about these matters impartially? At Middlesbrough they tried to deprive a fan of his season ticket because he fell asleep on tv , can we leave judgements about the suitability of flags to people like this?

Decisions of this nature are obviously motivated by things other than impartiality. This is especially the case if  flags are  declared unfit because they decry an association, the administration of the club or “show a club in a bad light”.

 Man United stewards have confiscated banners that are rude about the club owners and Wembley’s stewards aren’t much better. They have both acted too forcefully to impose the rules and deprive people of their democratic right to protest. 

Bangor fans have had similar experiences. In 2009 the F.A.W. had decided to play the Welsh Cup Final in Llanelli on a May Day bank holiday with a 4pm kick off. It takes between 4 and 5 hours to get to Llanelli from north Wales, and we all had work the next day, so quite rightly we weren’t very happy about the decision. Consequently my friend Pete made a banner to express our feelings. During the match it was confiscated by stewards because of  it’s less than flattering opinion of the F.A.W;

It’s almost as if clubs and football authorities like to be unaccountable. If these people don’t want to be held accountable they shouldn’t make stupid decisions or do the wrong thing. Maybe this is a mad idea. 

You may wonder what I’ve been going on about and you may have wondered why I bothered writing this.  Maybe we should just tune in, lie down and drop out like this dude;

“This is Arsenal Football Club, not Hyde Park, Parliament Square or any other place of a political rally – as far as I know, we don’t pay our ticket money to watch a political demonstration (do we?), we want to come and watch the Arsenal play. One of the best things about football in this country is that it is separate of politics (unlike in Greece, Cyprus or Turkey) and I would not like to see politics being brought into the game now.”

Unfortunately Chief, the corrupt and the powerful (usually interchangable) use just such a reason as a justification for their behaviour. They give us bread and they give us circuses and hope we don’t notice what they’re doing. Please don’t give them an excuse, doing nothing is a Political act.

To return to the steward in Neath, maybe I was right first time. He was just displaying a vulgar sense of power because he could, an obviously petty man-made a very petty decision. Unfortunately petty displays of power seem to be all the rage. Yes Virgin Trains staff, I’m looking at you.

Maybe I’m overly cynical but  I sense that the new approach of “fire safety issues” with flags will be used as a catch-all phrase to prevent the democratic right to protest. There’s another unsettling thought; we live in the sort of world where people need the approval of censorious stewards.

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One response

4 09 2011
Tim Regester (@TechnoTim2011)

There is a major illogical point about large flags and firew certification at stadia in England. Yes they may be made of non-fire retardent materials and yes they are displayed in the open air but for a flag to be considered anything other than a low grade fire risk (irrespective of material) there needs to be a third element, namely a source of ignition. This is the totally accepted triangle of fire, used in almost all cases by the Health and Safety Executive for assessing Fire Safety and risk analysis. Google Triangle of Fire and you will see how simple and obvious it is. Without a source of ignition that is reasonably probable there is no good reason to make banners and flags high risk or even medium risk. Thus the need for fireproofing and a fire certificate is completely unjustified.

Since the ban on smoking in stadia no safety or fire safety professional has been able to suggest what this source of ignition would be.

But try and point this out to Stadium Safety Officers and you will be met with stony silence. Either they cannot get their heads around simple concepts or basically are merely jobsworths who added or continue the fire certification myth for no other reason than they can’t be asked to change the paperwork.

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