Port Vale: League Two club charged by FA but out to totally rid football of abuse

Port Vale believe they are the first football club in the country to display such an all-encompassing anti-abuse message to their fans
Port Vale believe they are the first football club in the country to display such an all-encompassing anti-abuse message to their fans

Port Vale chief executive Colin Garlick has outlined their aim to stamp out all forms of verbal abuse from football.

The League Two club were proactive in this area even prior to an incident in the away derby at Crewe in September, when a female assistant referee was verbally abused by some Vale fans.

Before Saturday's return game at Vale Park, Garlick is keen to avoid any sort of repeat - and in future games too.

"We're playing Crewe but that shouldn't make any difference," he said.

"We're on trial every day. Our aim is that everybody should be able to come to this ground on a Saturday, come in and watch a good game of football and enjoy the whole experience."

The incident involving assistant referee Helen Byrne was described by the Football Association in their report following an independent hearing as having been "of an extremely unpleasant and sustained nature, involving a number of supporters".

The report added: "It must have been greatly distressing to Ms Byrne and detrimental to all supporters who were exposed to it.

"It was wholly unacceptable and it is a matter of great regret that it was not dealt with effectively at the time."

Vale pleaded guilty to the FA charge of failing to control their fans.

"We have to accept that, within the FA regulations, we were guilty," said Garlick. "We looked to mitigate ourselves and went to the FA to explain in detail about all the good work that we did and they recognised that.

"We've got to learn from that, but that isn't to say we weren't proactive anyway and we were able to demonstrate that. It didn't necessitate any further action and the FA were very aware of what we did and were probably appreciative, it was fair to say."

What happened at the Crewe game?

Vale's 1-0 win at Crewe was officiated by referee Darren Drysdale, supported by assistant referees Marvyn Amphlett and Helen Byrne, with Abbas Khan as fourth official.

The FA's written reasons for the decision of the independent regulatory commission outlined that Byrne felt so uncomfortable standing in front of some Vale fans, it was agreed she should swap touchlines with her fellow assistant referee at half-time.

The report said: "She explained that throughout the first half she 'received constant verbal sexist abuse from the Port Vale fans'.

"On the 35th minute, she informed the match referee Mr Darren Drysdale that 'I was receiving horrendous amounts of sexist abuse and it was really affecting me physiologically. This was not an 'odd' comment but a continuous barrage of abuse'.

"She told Mr Drysdale it 'was coming from fans from the corner flag down to the halfway line'.

"At half-time Mr Drysdale reported this to the head safety officer. It was agreed that Ms Byrne would swap to the other side of the pitch.

"Mr Drysdale and Mr Byrne reported the incident to the ground safety officer and police commander in the dressing room afterwards.

"The Crewe safety officer explained that Crewe's own stewards said they had heard only 'banter'."

What has happened since?

After it was revealed that Vale were to be charged by the FA, Garlick told a supporters' club meeting on 23 November that the comments were of a sexual nature.

Garlick had, by then, also apologised to the woman, although the club chose not to reveal her identity.

Vale then appeared at their independent regulatory commission hearing on 3 December.

The FA issued a small financial charge to Vale on 18 December - £1,000, half the costs of the regulatory commission, plus the forfeit of the £100 fee which the club had to pay having made a request for an oral hearing.

They accepted that the club had taken a range of valuable measures to seek to combat discrimination and were "impressed by the sincerity of Port Vale's expressions of apology and regret, by the steps it has taken and by its determination to do more."

Garlick contacted the FA regarding a number of points raised in the written reasons, but is still awaiting a response.

Crewe said in a short statement, when approached by the BBC in December, that they "don't wish to comment on the matter".

What happens now?

Vale revealed last week that, in a joint initiative with its own official supporters club and the now 25-year-old anti-racism Kick It Out campaign, they had produced two advertising hoardings in front of their Lorne Street Stand promoting the simple diversity message "Football Has No Gender" - designed by Steve Burdekin, a member of the Port Vale fan group "North London Valiants".

Garlick said: "It's part of the ongoing work we've been doing for some time now to bring the diversity element to the fore.

"There may be others out there but I'm not aware of any. We're proud of what we're doing anyway but to be the first would make us even more proud in leading the way.

"We're trying to attack equality, diversity and inclusion issues within the game and we've been doing it for a long time. We want to ensure that everyone in the community who wants to come to football can do so not feeling intimidated or threatened.

"We cant be complacent because we don't know what's going to happen on Saturday. And, let's be realistic, it happens up and down the country at different football grounds.

"Our aim is to try to stamp all of that out. We all know it's there. We can't bury our heads in the sand. We need just to realise, keep up the good work and not give up until we've completely eradicated it.

"There's nothing better than a competitive atmosphere at a football game, where both teams are putting on a good show for the supporters and both sets of supporters are enjoying a good competitive game. It's a sport after all. That's what's great about the game.

"Football's been going for an awful long time and we've come a long way, but we also know we've got a lot of work to do."