Defiant Widnes Vikings chief Chris Hamilton on ‘unacceptable’ abuse and sparking debate over fan behaviour

DEFIANT Widnes Vikings official Chris Hamilton says sparking a debate over the behaviour of some sports fans in general is the one positive to come out of the “unacceptable” verbal abuse he received from supporters of his own club at the end of a recent match.

The former Oldham chairman and chief executive, who became head of integrated operations at the Vikings last March, was stung by the response of a section of travelling fans towards him following the 18-6 1895 Cup defeat at Swinton in the club’s first match of the season.

Hamilton accepts that criticism comes with his role at Widnes, who dropped out of Super League amid financial difficulties in 2018 and have so far failed to come close to a return.

But he says the post-match onslaught at Heywood Road crossed a line and was “totally unacceptable”.

The 61-year-old, who had more than 25 years of involvement at Oldham before a takeover of that club last March, took to his LinkedIn page to write: “I was the target of abuse from ‘fans’ while waiting to do what I do every match, regardless of the result, and shake hands with all the players as they came off the pitch.

“Of course it (the defeat) was all my fault, as was pointed out in no uncertain fashion, in front of women and children.

“People say that fans are entitled to their opinion as they have paid their money. I get that, but there is no doubt whatsoever that it should be done in the right way and at the right time.

“I work very hard, seven days a week, to try to progress the club to where we want to be, but it is clear that some people cannot see the wood for the trees.”

Hamilton later told League Express: “I’m not naïve. I’ve been in the game a long time and had a lot of things said to me and I know passions run high when it comes to supporting a club, whatever the sport.

“I’m happy to listen to constructive criticism made in a sensible way, and I accept that sometimes things are said in the heat of the moment.

“But this crossed a line, and as the abuse rained down, I just thought ‘this is unacceptable in any walk of life’.

“It seems some people think they can say whatever they like in whatever way they like without any consequences, and I think there’s been an increase in this type of behaviour in life in general. But it’s not okay, and people on the receiving end shouldn’t have to stay quiet and just put up with it.

“I’ve been heartened by the many messages of support I’ve received from Widnes fans and officials, coaches and players of other clubs.

“If this episode has opened a debate on this kind of behaviour, and highlighted that it’s on the increase, is unacceptable and that needs to be addressed, then at least one good thing has come out of it.

“Meanwhile I will continue to do the job I was brought in to do, but people need to realise it’s not an overnight process.”

The Vikings said in a statement: “The board of directors will not tolerate any form of abuse, including verbal, directed at any member of our Vikings community – players, staff, employees, or volunteers.

“Neither will they accept any form of social-media interactions that might bring the reputation of the club into disrepute. The board will take appropriate action in all cases.

“There exist open and available channels of communication to all connected with our club and we would ask that these be used in the future.”

Meanwhile Cornwall have called out a section of the travelling support following their home Challenge Cup third-round clash with York Acorn.

And that followed incidents involving spectators at York Knights and Whitehaven when they played Wakefield and Barrow respectively in the 1895 Cup.

A statement issued by Cornwall read: “We have been made aware of comments directed at members of our playing squad, medical staff and our ball crew from a small section of away supporters.

“The club does not condone this abhorrent behaviour as acceptable within the sport of Rugby League, and it is not within the values of the newly-launched ‘Respect’ campaign.

“Cornwall RLFC will now follow the correct Rugby Football League procedures in reporting these unsavoury incidents.”

York said in a statement: “As a club, we condemn all forms of violence and anti-social behaviour and this incident has no part in the matchday experience we wish to provide supporters with.

“We will be working with the York Stadium Management Company and Wakefield Trinity to investigate the incident and will take any necessary steps to mitigate risks and issues in the future.”

Whitehaven say they banned an individual from attending home and away games “for a period of time” after the club was cited for verbal abuse of the referee.

The club is also investigating reports that a touch judge suffered homophobic abuse.