All Floodlit Cup rugby matches this season involving Hatfield or Castle will be played without spectators after “unacceptable” behaviour during the Castle A vs Hatfield B match on 28th January.
It is understood that the game, which already comes with a long-standing rivalry, coincided with Hatfield’s ‘Old Boys weekend’, where former rugby club members come back to Durham for the weekend.
One spectator described the scenes to Palatinate: “At the start of the game, there were many chants and a lot of light-hearted insults being thrown about by fans from both Hatfield and Castle. However, in the second half, the atmosphere got more raucous and the chants a lot more personal.
“It didn’t take long before a few people started to invade the pitch, with one Hatfielder trying to poke the Castle winger’s arse with a corner flag he had stolen. This certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that the cordons were drunk Castle students who were certainly in no shape to stop people from getting on the pitch.”
“The behaviour continued to worsen on both sides. Any time there was a line-out, the hookers had tinnies lobbed at their heads.”
After the game, the floodlights were switched off, and several face-to-face confrontations occurred. Whilst the two teams were shaking hands, a few Hatfield ‘old boys’ approached a Castle student in an attempt to get hold of his beer helmet. The student was scratched badly on his neck and bruised on his eye.
Palatinate understands that punches were thrown and some fans were urinating on the stands at Maiden Castle. Sources say insults and “nasty chants” came from both sides, but that the violence was caused predominately by the Hatfield old boys.
A Durham University spokesperson said: “We believe everyone has the right to work, study and enjoy their leisure time in an environment that is respectful. Where behaviour falls below the standard we would expect, we take swift and decisive action.”
Team Durham added that, “The ban was set against a clear set of expectations for crowd behaviour and there were several breaches on this occasion.”
In an email to Hatfield students this morning, College Vice Master James Armitage said, “We ask that students respect this decision and do not attend matches. Any attempt to do so would constitute Non-Academic Misconduct, and may result in additional sanctions for HCRFC and a spectator ban for other sports.
“We hope that our players on the pitch are able to compete successfully – the best way we can support them is to allow them to play without the distraction of anything that could result in further sanctions.”
Castle students also received an email condemning the “unacceptable” scenes: “Please know that for all sports fixtures, fans are to remaining the designated seating areas behind the side line fencing, alcohol in glass containers is not permitted, rubbish is to be disposed of properly, and public urination is absolutely inappropriate”.
But representatives of University College Rugby Football Club (UCRFC) told Palatinate that the ban was “disproportionate” and that events have been blown out of proportion: “Although we do ultimately shoulder some responsibility for the events, it seems to me that the biggest issue was Maiden Castle’s facilities’ lack of foresight in a ferocious derby game in deeming it unnecessary to have security at games with 400-strong crowds.
“Consequently, we feel it is unfair for the players and the fans, who are thoroughly disappointed, to have shouldered all responsibility when Maiden Castle’s incompetence clearly had an input into the events that occurred. Sober or not, two student stewards could not have prevented some of the crowd behaviour from the Old Boys”.
Team Durham were keen to add that, “In general these events have been well marshalled and provide the students taking part in an unbelievably unique experience. There is not another university in the UK that has such spectator support and it’s something that we would absolutely want to protect and ensure that we can help Colleges find the right balance.”
Image: Thomas Tomlinson