Freedom of Speech and Arsenal

By Kevin Whitcher

What is and isn’t allowed inside the Emirates

In May of last season, Arsenal stewards were stationed outside the away fans’ entrance at Manchester City and were seen to be inspecting banners, and – according to eyewitness accounts – confiscating particular ones that were critical of Arsene Wenger. Those that were affected considered the actions censorious. A question was subsequently raised at the October AGM about whether the club was censorious, comparing what happened at the Etihad to North Korea. That hit a raw nerve with Ivan Gazidis, no surprise given his own childhood in South Africa and his father’s imprisonment for speaking out on far more important matters than who should be managing a football team. The CEO responded that there was no censorship policy at the club and that Arsenal stewards were not involved in banner confiscation at the Manchester City game.

Photo by Marcia Milnes

Having heard from those who had been affected by the events at the Etihad the previous May, I approached Gazidis after the meeting had closed to inform him that I had heard differently from those present at the away entrance. He suggested a meeting to thrash out exactly what happened, also involving the stewards that were on duty that day. Unfortunately, too many of those fans affected refused to attend the planned meeting because they feared a stitch up by the club, which would not have been the case, but failed to convince them otherwise. However, in the process, I had a long phone conversation with supporter liaison officer Mark Brindle which explained how the CEO was of the view that Arsenal stewards had not been censorious on behalf of the club at the Etihad and more important, information about what is and is not accepted.

Mark emphasized that the fact that protest banners are often seen at home matches are evidence that the club is not censorious. What is not acceptable is physical violence as a consequence of supporters disagreeing with each other and he cited an example of a pro-Wenger fan being banned for punching another fan who was voicing his protestations about the manager at a home game. Anyone who is a victim of physical violence from a fellow Arsenal fan at either a home or away match should contact the club who will investigate and take action whenever possible.

He stated that the reasons a banner might not be allowed at Arsenal are size, safety (in terms of fire risk) or if the content is “likely to cause a disturbance”. I think it’s fair to say that any which are obviously offensive in terms of the language used – specifically swearing – can be added to this. It also goes without saying that banners should not be blocking the view of any supporters while the game is in progress. I have discovered confirmation of this on the club’s website, which states that at the Emirates, fans “are welcome to bring flags and banners to the ground, as long as they meet the Club’s safety requirements. They must not exceed 1m in height or width, and be displayed on a pole no thicker than a pencil. Please note that the Club reserves the right to turn banners away on the grounds of offensive content.”

Any banners not allowed in at the Etihad would have been rejected on the criteria of size (although I haven’t had the time to look up what the specific dimensions allowed are for that stadium). Manchester City requested Arsenal send stewards to that away game and the Arsenal stewards that were there were acting under the advice of Manchester City stewards. In the event that any banners were confiscated on the grounds of the wording they contained (as opposed to size) – which the club maintain they do not believe happened – then the stewards concerned had “overstepped the mark”.

I am posting this information because I want everyone to be clear if any operation to prevent banners entering the stadium does take place between now and the season’s end exactly where they stand. The rules, if enforced (and in fairness they haven’t been up to now) would obviously apply to all banners – pro or anti Arsene, unless the club wishes to open itself up to accusations of double standards.

The main message from my conversation with Mark Brindle backed up what Ivan Gazidis had told shareholders at the AGM. The club is not censorious, and freedom of speech is a privilege that extends to supporters. This is encouraging news for all that wish to make their feelings known to the club on matchdays, whether they want change or are content with the status quo.

There are of course, people that were at Manchester City last May that have a different view. However, moving forward at least we can be clear what is and isn’t allowed. There are no restrictions on the size of banners displayed outside the stadium.

10th March 2017 10:22:49


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

pedster8  11:02am 10th Mar 2017

So counter productive and provocative to proper fans who go to support the team. Especially to an away game what normal person spends their time making a banner with the intention to draw negative attention, the idiot at the Chelsea game go far too much press & away to City a tough game anyway people should cheer on the team not the opposite. - Post No. 105045

mbg  14:23pm 10th Mar 2017

Nice one Kev, there you have it folks get those banners made, home made or professionally as long as their worded properly and the correct size they won't be confiscated, fill the ground with them, wenger out, go now, no knew contract, we want wenger out we want wenger out. - Post No. 105066

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