It was supposed to be a day to celebrate soccer, as well as watch an entertaining soccer game. For some unfortunate Red Bulls fans, it was just another day of avoiding harrassment from Giants Stadium security.
Several members of the Red Bulls’ largest supporter’s group, the Empire Supporter’s Club, were ejected and banned from Giants Stadium after altercations with stadium security. It would be foolish to assume that the fans were completely blameless in the incidents, but the clashes with security are the latest in a history of conflict between stadium security and the Red Bulls’ most ardent supporters.
I have spent most of my life in New Jersey and have been to Giants Stadium both as a journalist and, on some occasions, as a sports fan, and it has been clear to me for some time now that there is a different attitude and approach by Giants Stadium security toward soccer fans than there is toward almost any other fan group that visits the venue. This can’t obviously be blamed on every single member of Giants Stadium security, but it can be blamed on a good number of security guards who appear more eager to get involved in confrontations with fans at soccer games than other events like football games.
The events of this weekend did little to dispel that belief. Along with having more than a dozen members of the ESC ejected from Saturday’s match, another Red Bulls fan who was ejected and banned was 2006 Red Bulls fan of the year Thomas Binkley, who was given the boot because of a verbal confrontation with a couple (it should also be noted that Binkley was seated in section 109, not 101, where most of the day’s other hostilities took place). Binkley, a fan who travels from Virginia to attend home games (he is a season-ticket holder) and is one of ESC’s leaders and road trip organizers (and who was interviewed for an ESPN.com story that same day) has now been banned from Giants Stadium by security guards who probably just saw another ‘rowdy’ soccer fan who needed to be put in line.
The mistreatment isn’t limited to Red Bulls matches. International friendlies almost always have their share of incidents and while there are clearly occasions where fans are to blame for problems because of their bad behavior, the combative and hostile attitude of some stadium security sure doesn’t help create a peaceful environment.
While the incidents at international friendlies are one thing, having constant battles between security and the team’s leading supporter’s group is unacceptable. Security at the stadium has helped turn Giants Stadium into a hostile environment for soccer fans who have supported the Red Bulls/MetroStars for the past dozen years and this can be blamed, at least in part, by the fact that the team those fans support do not own the stadium.
Think about it. If you ran the stadium, would you care much about a tenant who doesn’t make you much money, and more importantly, is leaving in a year?
So why are the Red Bulls to blame? Obviously they aren’t the main ones to blame (the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority is), but Red Bull New York is the organization that should care about its fans and should be working on the behalf of their fans to seek better treatment. Whether it be by having team liaisons sit in section 101 to help (The club says these exist, though it is unclear what they do), or by working with the NJSEA to establish a better system for fans to appeal when they are ejected and banned, the club could be doing far more than it is currently doing to help its fans deal with an environment that can only be described as hostile (as evidenced by this salutation from one security guard on the far left toward ESC members following Saturday’s match).
"I know there is a long, complicate history between the security guards at Giants stadium and the ESC," Red Bulls managing director Erik Stover said. "I think it’s unfortunate and its something that we’re going to fix when we move into the new building.
"I think the Sports Authority has a lot of rules and tends to lean towards things being black and white," Stover said. "It’s clear to me that the set of rules doesn’t fit in with everyday soccer life."
Stover acknowledged that there are issues that need to be addressed, but admitted that the Red Bulls are limited in their ability to make real chances in how the NSEA polices the crowd at Red Bulls games.
"I’m just kind of frustrated that I don’t have a simple solution," Stover said. "We’re committed to doing everything we can to make the experience as manageable as possible between now and when we move into Red Bull Park."
(Stover also stated that Red Bulls fans who were ejected and banned who feel they were unjustly ejected should contact the Red Bulls’ fan services department. The club will then look into their incidents to see if they were properly handled.)
Most Red Bulls fans can’t wait for Red Bull Park to be built next year because it promises to be a better game-day experience, and more beautiful home for their soccer team, but many are counting the days until the team moves out of Giants Stadium so that they don’t have to deal with mistreatment by stadium security, and indirectly, the very team they support.
What do you think about the game-day experience at Giants Stadium? Do you feel security is fair in its handling of soccer games and soccer fans? Have you had a bad experience with security at Giants Stadium? Share your thoughts below.