The facts of the case
4. On 25 September the Club wrote to the complainant saying that during an investigation into his conduct while attending Club fixtures, he had been accused of using foul, obscene and aggressive language towards female members of staff at the home match against QPR on 31 August 2019. That was in addition to his unacceptable conduct at the away fixture against Rotherham on 28 August. The Club said that when he had met with them on 18 September, he had been shown the evidence and admitted the accusations against him. They said that the Club would not tolerate such behaviour, which was in breach of their high standards. He had clearly demonstrated that he was unable, or unwilling, to adhere to rule 7 of the ground regulations (that should have been rule 9). Consequently, the Club were banning him for two years and, if he attempted to buy tickets for any Club fixture, the ban would re-start from the relative date. They said that, for clarity, he was precluded from attending matches at Hillsborough or any regulated fixture involving the Club. The Club would also be informing South Yorkshire police of the ban and the police would be monitoring his potential attendance.
Evidence from the Club
12. The Club provided the IFO with copies of contemporaneous statements by the female steward involved, and a second female steward who said that she had subsequently been verbally abused by the complainant. Much of the language allegedly used by the complainant was vile and personal. The Club also provided a copy of a report sent to them by Rotherham United surrounding thecircumstances of the complainant’s ejection; aggression, prolonged abuse of stewards and a refusal to follow instructions were common themes throughout the lengthy report. The incident had also caused other fans to turn on the stewards and one steward had been removed for his own safety. The Club also provided evidence from other fans who had complained about the complainant’s behaviour at the Rotherham, QPR and other matches.
13. The Club said that the appeal panel had comprised four senior members of staff who had not been involved in imposing the initial ban. They said that the Club take very seriously discrimination, bullying and abuse of any nature and the complainant had not disputed that he had shouted not once, but a whole torrent of foul and abusive comments to a female steward. He had not known her and there had been no previous interactions between them. That incident had occurred only three days after the complainant had been ejected at Rotherham for similar abusive behaviour involving stewards. The regret expressed by the complainant did not excuse his behaviour, which had humiliated and deeply distressed the lady. The Club did not want to see such scenes in the stadium or want them to be witnessed by other supporters, some of which were children.
16. The IFO considers first the complainant’s contention that the ban was not proportionate to the offence. As far as the length of the ban is concerned, the IFO considers the complainant fortunate not to have received a longer ban in light of the seriousness of the abuse directed at the female stewards, and the fact that he had also been ejected at the Rotherham match when abuse of stewards had also featured.