WANDERERS believe a “sensible approach” is helping to tackle issues of misbehaviour at the University of Bolton Stadium.

More than 30 banning orders were issued by the club last season after flare-ups of trouble in several games, but club CEO Neil Hart believes measures taken have had a positive impact.

Data for the first half of last season showed arrests at football matches had risen nearly 50 per cent with incidents of disorder reported at nearly half of games across the Premier League, EFL and National League.

That has also led to a higher police presence, with officers needed at 66 per cent of games, compared with 42 per cent the previous non-Covid affected year.

“Football has had an issue with disorder in stadia, so it is not just Bolton Wanderers,” Hart told The Bolton News. “It has happened up and down the country and you won’t need me to refer to trouble at Premier League stadiums, international games.

“We have had issues with a minority of supporters and we are trying to deal with that in a sensible, common sense way. We have done a lot of work on a one-to-one basis with some of those individuals, brought them in and talked to them, and that has been directed by myself, our safety officer Ben Cowcill, we have had Phil Mason from Bolton Wanderers in the Community involved and John McGinlay as well. It is a good team of people who have talked to people who have caused disorder and disrupted the fanbase.

“That is working and we are trying to get people engaged in a positive way.

“We have had to issue banning orders this season and that has been well-documented. This season we have issued over 30 banning orders – a variety of longer and shorter-term – and they range from flares to smoke bombs, physical disorder to drugs and substance misuse.

“We try to deal with it in a sensible way. Some of it is criminal and has to be passed on to the police and we have had issues, we can’t deny that.”

In addressing the problems, Wanderers are presented with a double-edged sword.

Hart estimates between “80 and 90 per cent” of the reports of disorder emanate from the Lower East Stand, known colloquially as the Crazy/Naughty Corner.

But he is also aware fans in that popular area of the ground are among the loudest and most vociferous, often generating much of the atmosphere around the ground.

Greater Manchester Police have visibly increased their presence during the course of the season, but Hart insists the section of the stadium remains integral to the matchday atmosphere.

“I am aware of some of the rumours out there in the fanbase about the lower East Stand corner, that we are going to shut it, move it, whatever.

“We have absolutely no intention of doing that – we really value that corner,” he said.

“The players want the atmosphere; they want the singing and the vibrant stadium. We want people to enjoy it and we have an amazing atmosphere – just look at the Easter Monday game.

“We want to maintain and support that, but we just want people to behave and be respectful to each other, and to the opposition fans.

“We understand the banter but be respectful to your surroundings, this is your stadium.

“We have had instances this year where we have had to replace seats in that corner because they have been damaged and ripped out. That isn’t acceptable because it costs thousands of pounds over the course of a season.

“Due to the issues we have faced in certain fixtures this year that has resulted in the police – rightly or wrongly, I’ll let you be the judge – implementing various measures and wanting different things in place.

“We are in constant dialogue over what is required and when, and we’re aware of some of the feedback from supporters over heavy-handedness in some fixtures and away games.

“We can have feedback and dialogue over away games but they are out of our jurisdiction.

“But right now we are in dialogue with the police over a new policing operational plan for next season, just giving them some feedback and dialogue over how we feel as a club we would like certain areas of our club policed.”

Asked whether problems in the Lower East Stand stem from the proximity to the away supporters housed in the South Stand, Hart added: “Does that create it? Potentially. It might heighten it.

“But in every stadium you get home fans set against the away fans, so it is our job to work with the supporters, the SAG and the police to try and do it the right way.

“I came in last July and I think we have come a long way with the way we are dealing with the problem. But to reiterate – we have no intention to close that corner, we just want people to behave and be respectful, and a minority are not doing it.

“That message comes from Sharon, Ian, all of us, we are on the same page.

“Sharon and I have been to away fixtures together and seen the disorder with our own eyes. We don’t want it here.”

The Bolton News conducted a fans’ survey several weeks ago which gave people the option to report issues they felt could be improved around the club.

Many supporters voiced concerns with disorder – particularly away from home – and some suggested the policy of allowing away supporters to leave the stadium immediately after the final whistle created potential flashpoints in the car parks and Horwich Parkway station.

Wanderers are now examining whether to change that for next season and stagger the time at which away supporters are moved out into the areas around the ground.

“We are across that and having discussions with the police,” Hart said. “Lots of supporters have written to me and used the Wigan game as an example where at their stadium everyone was held back for 10 minutes and here everyone leaves at the same time.

“They are different stadiums and there are different reasons behind it – that is what we are getting back from the police but it is a conversation we are having.

“Rest assured, me and everyone else involved in these discussions is doing the best for this football club and trying to make it as safe as possible.”

Average attendances at the UniBol were well above 15,000 last year and the club report that season ticket sales since February are now at record post-Premier League levels.

The number of younger fans has also increased thanks to discounted season tickets and Hart is hopeful that the ‘family’ aspect is now returning to the ground.

But the steadily rising levels of disorder across football since the lockdown has been difficult to miss and facing a huge rise in policing costs the club took drastic action by bringing in a membership scheme mid-season.

Another measure, dubbed ‘One Wanderers’ scheme was also introduced shortly afterwards, giving supporters a free and confidential contact to report disorder during games.

Hart believes it has been a success and helped contribute to fewer instances of misbehaviour as the season wore on.

The club is now hoping to bring the Supporters’ Trust on board during ‘SAG’ meetings with the council and emergency services to give a more representational voice.

“We have spoken to the Supporters Trust – who have been terrific – about a number of fan-related issues and how we’re trying to enhance things,” he said.

“We are now looking to give them a say on these things whereby they can come to the meetings and make the supporters part of the SAG. It’s really important we do that.

“I think as the season progressed we have seen improvement on fan behaviour.

“We have had the odd spike but generally there have been fewer problems.

“I know the fans, the board, Sharon, Ian and I are feeling positive about this – we’re working really hard to drive this club forward.”