There is anger among Portland Timbers fans this week after what they see as harassment by stadium security at last Sunday’s derby in Seattle.
Sounders FC won the match 3-0 in front of record breaking numbers of fans including a sizeable traveling contingent from Portland, estimated to be between 1200 and 1500.
The complains fall into three basic categories:
a) Procedures agreed on a pre-match conference call were not followed by security staff
b) Stewards had been given instructions to deliberately provoke visiting fans
c) The away fans were forced to exit the stadium directly into streets where Sounders fans were also leaving, endangering the safety of both.
There had been a meeting about procedures for coping with a large away support in the run up to the derby between the two sides.
Copious rules and restrictions are placed on visiting fans at both Seattle and Portland, such as arriving two hours before kick off, being penned inside the car park until the gates open and being kept in after the final whistle. The names of traveling fans on the buses have to be supplied in advance.
This part of the arrangement appears to have run smoothly. It is the events inside the stadium and post-match that are causing the controversy.
Both Supporters Groups, Timbers Army and Sounders FC’s Emerald City Supporters, send their own stewards to away games whose role it is to ensure conformity to the agreed rules and their own members’ adherence to them.
Timbers Army sources claim that procedures for an element of self-policing at the stadium had been agreed but say they were swept by the wayside on the day amid an acrimonious and hostile atmosphere at the North East corner of the stadium that housed the visiting supporters.
It appears that despite the authority given to those stewards by consent of both sides in advance, Timbers fans’ representatives were consistently overruled in Seattle and their authority challenged.
“They were coming down on minor infractions, exactly the kind of thing our security were supposed to be dealing with,” said one Timbers Army leader.
“When our stewards questioned the reasons for an ejection, they too were threatened with ejection by the Police,” said the source who named the officer involved in one incident.
Other fans identified one particularly aggressive steward by his badge number citing his aggressive behaviour as the source of further acrimony.
Accusing home stewards of heavy handedness is par for the course after derbies and not unusual from Timbers fans on away trips, but there is one very serious accusation which will surely cause outrage if proven to be true.
Nick Hambleton, a 34-year-old behavioural specialist is a Timbers fan who was at the stadium. He heard stewards claiming they had been instructed to act provocatively and instigate trouble:
“Some of (the security staff) voiced to our supporters that they had been instructed to “fuck with us” in order to draw ejections. That is a direct quote from them.”
It is not clear where those instructions came from but if stewards were instructed to deliberately provoke confrontations that is a very serious matter and merits investigation, as much to clear the Seattle authorities as to identify the source.
However the biggest threat to public safety came from another decision made on the day, and counter to the agreed plans; namely the entrance and exit routes for the Portland fans.
Whereas their entry was made on a quiet access road to the east of the stadium, somebody on the day reversed the decision to return them to their buses along the same path.
Instead their exit was forced through streets packed with Sounders fans also leaving and this led to several unnecessary flashpoints according to Garrett Dittfurth, the Communications Officer for the Timbers Army.
“We expected to be led out the same way we were brought in, which was a secure path that picked up and dropped off right where our buses had been parked next to Safeco.
I believe their excuse for not taking us down the same path was that in the march up to Centurylink they claimed there had been vandalism.”
Dittfurth claims he saw no such vandalism.
“They took our group into the stadium three separate trips,” continues Dittfurth.
I was one of the last in and came in with another TA board member following the same path. I have no idea what they mean by vandalism as all looked fine to me and I noticed nothing.”
Jeremy Wright represented the Timbers Army on the pre-match security call and told us that much of what had been agreed last Wednesday was ignored on the day:
“As the Travel Chair I was on the security conference call on Wednesday October 3 at 2:00 p.m. We went through our travel plans and timing and then Seattle operations walked through the “security plan” for the day.
I quote “security plan” because there was literally never anything in writing sent to us. One of the largest away support to ever attend a MLS match, in one of the most heated rivalries in North America, and we received a Google map of the parking location.
That’s it. Everything was verbal. And practically everything said on the call turned out to be a fabrication.”
Dittfurth confirmed that Timbers owner Merritt Paulson contacted representatives of the traveling fans vowing to communicate to the league concerns on their behalf.
“Our Front Office has been in contact with us and has expressed their frustration with Seattle not treating us in the same regard they treat their supporters. From my understanding the point of the conference call is to express their frustrations to the league.”
A conference call has been scheduled for Thursday with the two clubs and Major League Soccer and a report has been prepared by fan representatives.
Leaders of 107-ist, the sub-section of the Timbers Army which governs external relations, have asked to be allowed on that conference call, and have been refused.
“We have asked to participate. We were told by our own Front Office that they would like to keep the call between themselves, the league and Seattle for now. They have asked us to supply them with a list of complaints etc”, said Dittfurth.
Officer Mark Jamieson is the media spokesman for the Seattle Police Department. He attended the match in his capacity as a Sounders fan and sat not far from the away fans.
“I don’t have any reports of any issues from our folks. I did a search and I don’t find that we made any arrests.”
He said that the King County Sheriffs inside the stadium were off duty officers contracted to specific events. Questioned about reports of any vandalism outside the stadium, he said:
“I don’t have any. I’m not aware of any reports of vandalism or anything surrounding the match. You can go online and you can see if there were any incidents of vandalism or disturbances right around that area.”
Prost Amerika has viewed the Seattle Police Department online records for the period between 3pm and 6pm of that day. There were no reported incidents on the route through which the away fans entered.
Asked if the Seattle Police would expect to hear of any crime of vandalism outside the stadium, he responded:
“Yes. Absolutely. I don’t have any reports of any vandalism that I can locate.”
This means that the decision to send the Timbers fans out among Sounders fans on Occidental Way after the game was taken due to an incident of vandalism considered insufficiently important to report to the Seattle Police, but sufficiently important to endanger the public safety of both sets of fans.
In an article for Prost Amerika to be published tomorrow, outlining a series of incidents on the day and agreements breached by the security staff, Wright revealed what the Security Staff had told him regarding the vandalism:
“I was told by the #2 in command that we would no longer be going back the way we came behind Qwest and Safeco as outlined in the security call. Why were we changing plans? I was told fans had “vandalized” Safeco field.
When I inquired about the nature of this vandalism I was told that stickers had been placed on light poles on the access road. So, because of the “vandalism”, Sounders security decided it was going to dump 1500 Timbers fans onto Occidental avenue surrounded by tens of thousands of Sounders fans.”
If Wright’s assertion is true, then someone took a decision to abandon a safe and agreed plan and re-route visiting fans into direct contact with thousands of innocent Sounders fans because of stickers. It barely seems feasible.
As Dittfurth concludes:
“If Don Garber’s biggest fear is a riot in a soccer stadium in the U.S. as he has said on several occasions he should probably pay special attention to the decision to pitch 1,500 Timbers supporters onto a street full of at least 3x as many Sounders supporters after a game.”
We did approach Sounders FC for comment on this story.
More Derby Coverage:
The Ross Fletcher Article: Calling GOAL Differs Across the Globe
Osvaldo Alonso is ‘improving every single day’
Andy Rose’s Message to England – I say ‘Come out and see it to believe it’
Tiffert: The best game since I’ve been here