Today we are going to keep our mouths shut and hand our soapbox over to a long time New England Revolution supporter and Midnight Rider. Evan is a true stand up guy and we were very happy to oblige to his request to do a guest post on TDIF. -Brian
Everything Old is New Again
Saturday’s incident is nothing new to this longtime supporter
By Evan Whitney
June 21, 2011
I was not in attendance at Gillette Stadium this past Saturday night when the New England Revolution met the Chicago Fire, so I can’t speak directly to the particulars of what happened in The Fort that evening. However, based on a number of eyewitness accounts a series of provocations involving club officials, TeamOps security, the Town of Foxborough Police Department, and a number of fans in The Fort resulting from concerns related to a profane chant led to a decision and series of actions that reportedly resulted in the arrest of 10-15 home supporters, and up to 20 fans being banned from Gillette Stadium for the rest of the season if not indefinitely. Videos showing some of the arrests and ejections are starting to surface via social media on-line, select comments critical of the club on their official Twitter and Facebook pages appear to have been deleted, while unconfirmed reports suggest that club officials have threatened credentialed news media with revocation of their press access should they report on this incident. (Ed. Note- The Revolution have informed us that this is not the case, yet we still have not seen much coverage of this by Revs media and especially Revs 'mainstream' outlets.)
Three days on the details remain sketchy, but the flow of vitriol, accusation, hyperbole and frustration continues unabated with neither side visibly working towards reconciliation or resolution of the issue. If anything, the rift between some of the Revolution’s most passionate supporters, club officials, and stadium staff may have reached a point where reconciliation of concerns respective to all parties involved may no longer be possible.
The only inscrutable fact than can be taken away from the incident is this: the situation could have, and should have been handled much better this past Saturday by all parties involved. Unfortunately, they weren’t, all the more-so when considering a second, irrefutable fact: incidents like as these are not isolated and have been witnessed with alarming regularity at Revolution matches dating back to 1996.
As noted previously I was not in attendance at the match this Saturday night, and despite having been a season ticket-holder, a long-time board member in one of the Revolution’s independent supporters groups, having watched all but three Revolution matches I’ve attended from The Fort since 1996 and missing no more than five home matches between 1996 and 2009. Admittedly, part of my absence has been due to family considerations and other obligations, but it is also fair to say that my time away from Foxboro has otherwise been of my own free will. Quite frankly Revolution matches aren’t the same experience for me that they were sixteen years-ago, and while part of that can be attributed to maturing and getting older, the other part comes down to the value of the match day experience itself, one that has been steadily decreasing in value.
While efforts have been by both club officials and representatives of The Midnight Riders, The Rebellion and Rev Army to cultivate a better working relationship based on reciprocity and trust, time and time again decisions have been made (official or otherwise) and actions taken that have served to compromise these efforts. A number of supporters have seen fit to antagonize and instigate in their dealings with the front office and stadium security, a number of club officials have gone back on their word or deliberately misrepresented themselves in their dealings with fans, and certain members of TeamOps and local law enforcement have conducted themselves unprofessionally, engaging in action going far beyond bullying via willful intimidation, verbal threats, and unnecessary force.
These issues first came to a head in 1999 when a member of The Midnight Riders (an accredited member of the news media) was arrested in a Foxboro Stadium parking lot as part of a sting operation by the Massachusetts State Police involving ticket-scalping. While the individual in question was not selling tickets and was arrested for making change from the sale of a Revolution fan magazine for the undercover officer he was subjected to verbal taunts, racial epithets, and unnecessary force by the attending officers. At the start of the following seasons a Revolution staffer was assigned to the Riders’ tailgate to serve as a “liaison” for future problems, at the same time, with members of the Foxborough Police Department and State Police regularly observing the tailgate either on foot or from marked police cars not 50 feet away. A good number of longtime supporters did not return after that season, and the numbers steadily decreased with continued unnecessary confrontations with security and law enforcement with little or no willingness on the part of the Revolution organization to help resolve the problem. I have personally had a police flashlight pushed in my chest by a State Trooper telling me to leave the tailgate when I was waiting for my ride home, have been subjected to verbal threats and profanities from police officers and those from surrounding communities, and have seen TeamOps accost and intimidate physically and mentally handicapped patrons thinking they were faking or otherwise overstating their conditions. It bears reiterating that these are Revolution supporters we’re talking about, not visiting fans who’ve not only been subject to the same, but often worse from stadium staff, officials and police.
My reason for providing this dose of institutional history is not intended to provide justification for off-color or profane chants, and in no means is meant to forgive or condone the behavior of a select number of fans who, as my mother might describe them, are “young, dumb, and full of come.” Efforts have been made in good faith on the part of supporters to reduce the use of profanity, and anything, increase the color, volume, and other measures of proactive team support coming from The Fort. The people there don’t make banners, construct flags, spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on road trips to follow the team, hold up scarves, jump up and down, cheer themselves hoarse or wear blisters into their hands from drumming for their own personal edification, they do it to give our players a lift, to show them we have their back.
The greater issue here isn’t about profanity, the greater issue here is about self-respect. Unfortunately, some patrons who take or have taken in matches from The Fort have demonstrated precious little of this, and as a result, these few bad apples have served to encourage club, security, and law enforcement officials to throw out the bunch, an action that is unnecessary as it is outdated. Admittedly, this particular issue may have reached a point where nuance and discretion were viable options in dealing with the situation, the ultimate manner in which also demonstrating a lack of self-respect on the part of club officials, stadium security, and other event staff. That being said, and to quote a longtime season ticket-holder:
“The actions taken by the (Revolution) front office and TeamOps were not justifiable in their extremity. In doing so, their actions have further eroded the relationship between the supporters groups and the front office, alienated many longtime fans of the Revolution (including a very good number of season ticket holders), illustrated the disconnect the Revs management has with how the rest of MLS is trending, (and) continued(s) to paint the Revs in a negative light with regard to other traveling fan bases.”
I’m smart enough to realize that no matter how much importance we may place on ourselves as supporters in The Fort ultimately in the eyes of the club we are no less and no more important than any other event patron, especially season ticket-holders. I also know that no matter the nature of supporters and their with relationship with the front office or organization, most fans conduct themselves in a fashion that is largely consistent with a fan code of conduct or similar. Unfortunately, there appears to be no established code of conduct or similar for those individuals involved with events or event management at Gillette Stadium, which in the context of those situations where supporters have been mistreated, contributes to a perception that stadium officials can act with impunity and no accountability.
It would be nice to think that the club might have been concerned after having given up my season tickets and explained the reasons for doing so, but no effort was made to solicit my thoughts nor has the club sought to lobby me in an effort to win back what has been a dedicated supporter for over sixteen years. The fact of the matter is that the Revolution can, does, and with some ease, erase the deficit of my tickets by selling a season ticket to someone else; you’re really only as valuable as the sixteen digits and expiration date on your credit card.
I love the New England Revolution and I give my all in The Fort because while I’m not able to suit up for the club and connect a pass, make a tackle, score a goal or stop a shot I feel that I can be proactive in my contribution and helpful to the team. I am New England ‘Til I Die and I always will be, even if that means doing what’s best for me is offering my support from a couch in front of a television, something that a good number of die-hard Revolution supporters (including me) could be doing for the rest of the season, if not permanently.
Evan Whitney is a sixteen year member of The Midnight Riders where he served as philanthrophy chair for nine years, was a columnist for the now defunct Revolution fanzine Pictures of Chairman Mao, and has contributed to a variety of publications including Soccer New England and ESPN.com