Bolton Wanderers boss Ian Evatt believes there is increasing concern over the safety of players and staff at football matches and questioned whether smaller stadiums such as Morecambe’s are capable of coping with large crowds.
Wanderers’ game over the weekend was marred by issues off the pitch, including an alleged racist remark being made to the Bolton bench which has led to a man being arrested and bailed in connection with the incident.
There was also a pitch invasion by some Bolton fans following Amadou Bakayoko’s dramatic late equalizer canceling out Cole Stockton’s opener.
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A number of Bolton fans were also arrested at the match on suspicion of assault, pitch encroachment and of being drunk and disorderly.
The incidents at the League One game was followed by a pitch invader being arrested during Nottingham Forest’s FA Cup victory over Leicester City on Sunday.
And Evatt believes there is ‘one hundred per cent’ increasing concern about the safety of players and staff at grounds as he called for the relevant authorities to be looking more at this issue.
He said: “We see all these fixtures – the amount of policing and stewarding that is surrounding supporters, especially away supporters. But some of these stadiums, the dugouts and technical areas are built into the stands so you’re literally sat with supporters.
“How are these supporters vetted? I don’t know. Are they security checked? I don’t know. These are extremes but any one of these could have a weapon.
“What’s it going to take before we start bringing in more measures and being more stringent with our policies? It’s happening more and more often.
“You’ve seen it with the racism side of it, the social media side of it, people entering the field of play. It’s not good enough, it’s not acceptable. This is a family sport – I want to be able to take my children to enjoy football matches.Would I be taking my kids to a football match at the moment?I’d have to have a lot of thought to be honest because we seem to be going backwards.
“We seem to be going back to the days of the 70’s and the 80’s. We’ve moved on from that, society is better than that. But we have to come together and stamp it out because it’s getting worse and worse.
“We seem to be reactive rather than proactive with all these things. As I said, what’s it going to take for us to really stand up and make decisions and make protocols that are stringent to put people off?
“Is it going to take a player or a member of staff to get seriously injured or even worse? I don’t know. I’d rather see us be more proactive than reactive and at the moment it seems to be the other way round .”
The attendance record at Morecambe’s Mazuma Stadium was broken on Saturday, with 5,617 in attendance as Wanderers sold out their away allocation.
Evatt believes though there is a tussle involving finances at smaller clubs in the likes of League One and League Two, he feels safety must always come out on top with sufficient stewarding and policing in place.
The clash against the Shrimps was stopped for 10 minutes following the allegations of racist abuse as both teams were taken off the pitch by the referee Ross Joyce.
In that period, Evatt could see his players were upset by the episode but expressed pride in how they channeled their emotions in the correct manner and hopes to see a positive knock-on from the experience amongst his squad in the future.
He said: “There is obviously a tussle between finance and what is safe. There shouldn’t be, for me, it should just be what is safe.
“There should be better plans in place and clubs should be asking themselves if there is sufficient stewarding and policing to cope, especially with the way the world is at the moment.
“I don’t know what protocols we need to put in place but we definitely need to manage it better.
“For all these people who were making comments about our team on Saturday, if they had seen some of the players in that 10-minute interval and how upset they were, young black footballers who have never witnessed anything like that before, they needed support .
“I know these players and their character better than anyone and I could see the upset.
“The information we gave them was to channel that emotion in the right way, and they did. I was so proud of the way they got that resulted in such challenging circumstances.
“Aside from everything else that went on, to have a player – in my opinion – unjustifiably sent off and then a penalty we save, to find a way to battle back with 10 men in those conditions is huge credit to the players.
“A lot of them are young men, really inexperienced, and I hope they never have to witness or go through anything like that again.
“People and institutions are shaped based on how they come through adversity and we faced a lot of Saturdays. The reaction we got from players, staff, board, the wider public, has been fantastic. It is almost that us against the world, siege mentality again, and it brought the best out of us. Hopefully it will in the future too.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.