Fans who made the trip to Belgium last week for United’s Europa match against Club Brugge on Thursday aren’t happy about the treatment they received when they were there, and stories are starting to come out about how bad it was.
According to multiple accounts on Facebook and other social media platforms, most are describing the Belgium hospitality as “the worst experience of a European away game they’d had for many years.”
An open letter drawn up by a member of the Facebook group, Stretford Enders Worldwide and MUST, the Manchester United Supporters Trust, to the mayor of Brugge Dirk De fauw, didn’t hold anything back. The fans’ response could be summed up in one sentence in the letter: “Fans were in genuine fear for their safety.”
An open letter to the Mayor of Brugge regarding the treatment of visiting Manchester United supportershttps://t.co/uMCMWbRyPd@dirk_defauw@stadbrugge @Clubbrugge @visit_bruges @BelPoliceEvent @fedPolice_rX @RoyalBelgianFA pic.twitter.com/EhYtxvDSLU— M.U.S.T (@MU_ST) February 24, 2020
The letter further explained the detail of the mistreatment. Highlights of the letter include:
- Fans being sent in the wrong direction on long detours around the stadium because of poor crowd management around the arena. Walks reported of over 40 minutes from the train station to the stadium, all via detours.
- Universal hostility from police when they were approached for assistance/directions further suggests this was part of a wider and deliberate policy of provocation.
- Use of a water cannon to “control the crowd.”
- Barbed wire barriers.
- Exit gates being locked leading to the buildup of crowds and the risk of a crush developing both at the exit from the concourse and at the bottom of the stairs.
- The head steward who held the gate key said he had been instructed by Police to lock the gate and refuse to allow supporters to exit.
- Netting used when there have been no incidents of missiles being thrown by Manchester United fans on previous visits.
- Police and Stewards having non-working radios.
- Police instructing taxi drivers to stay away from the stadium and not to pick up United fans.
Today, it has been revealed that the Mayor of Brugge has responded to the letter calling it “normal procedure.”
In a radio interview this morning, Mayor Dirk De Fauw addressed the questions and concerns raised by the letter:
“The United fans have been received in the same way as all other teams...such as PSG, Real Madrid, Antwerp or Standard.
“The measures were even less severe than against PSG...The French fans were not allowed into the center of Bruges, they had to drive straight to the stadium.”
When asked about the detours, the mayor added:
“That they had to take a detour is true. But that is always true. The shortest way from the center to the stadium is the road with cafes where all Bruges supporters gather. It is not appropriate that visiting fans also take that direction.”
On the issue of water cannons:
“By the way, I am not a big fan of the water cannon and the police on horseback. I always ask them to be a bit discreet. We must not create a hostile atmosphere. In this way I also try to deploy helicopters to the strictly necessary limit, because that too is disturbing.”
Apparently, all of the safeguards and procedures were from past incidents with United fans (2015 Champions League was the only other time United played Club Brugge).
“UEFA was present here and will have estimated what the possible problems could be. They also know the fans of United who now present themselves as very sweet people, but there have been problems here with some of those supporters in the past.”
The mayor ended the interview with a statement saying he will reply to MUST after he consults with the Bruges chief of police.
Club Brugge head to Old Trafford this Thursday for the return leg of the Europa League knockout stage and many United fans and supporters still bitter from the treatment promise to treat the Belgium fans with kindness and respect, something that was lacking last week.