Crowd congestion: "late" fans to blame?

Burton Albion in action Pirelli Stadium Photo Action Images

Some Birmingham City fans missed most of the first half during their visit to Burton Albion this season due to crowd congestion. The club say fans arriving late and behaviour on the terrace were the root cause - FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks isn’t convinced…

To save you ploughing through the entire Independent Football Ombudsman (IFO) report on this complaint, I’ll give you a brief background:

Birmingham City were away to Burton Albion last October, an evening fixture with a 7.45pm kick off.

This meant many fans would go straight from work and drive or go on coaches to the game through rush hour which on this particular evening were made worse by problems on the A38.

Not unsurprisingly, many fans arrived shortly before kick-off. The crux of the supporter’s complaint to the IFO was that poor crowd management of the “late arrivals” meant he missed the majority of the first half of the game.

The IFO acknowledged that Burton Albion had not handled the supporter’s complaint as well as they could have – originally stating that fans had waited until “just before kick-off” to go through the turnstiles, and recommended they be compensated £30 each and offered free tickets.

However, the IFO didn’t agree that poor crowd management contributed to the supporters missing the first half of the game. The Sports Ground Safety Authority are satisfied with the safety management. I can’t and won’t dispute that.

Newcastle United fans had experienced similar problems to the Birmingham City fans at the Pirelli Stadium and “lessons had been learnt”. More stewards introduced, fans advised to arrive “early” and position themselves considerately on the terraces.

But… but…

What I can and will take issue with is the IFO not delving deeper into, as the complainant stated, Burton Albion effectively blaming the “late” arrival of travelling fans and their subsequent alleged behaviour, for him missing the first half of the game.

Why have we not seen similar problems at Brentford’s Griffin Park, the only other ground in the Championship with a standing terrace?

I take issue with the IFO not asking more questions about the crowd management.

Fans can sometimes be challenging and on occasion defiant. But in this case, if improvements really had been made since the Newcastle game, why did the complainants miss the first half and why was the blame passed to them for being “late” and to their fellow fans for their behaviour?

Those extra stewards needed to manage the flow of fans through the turnstiles and onto the whole terrace.  That they didn’t – was that really the fault of all the fans?

Clubs could deploy one steward for every fan but unless  those stewards are properly trained, have experience of sporting crowds, particularly football and they are properly prepared for those who arrive very close to kick off – as they should be, particularly at mid-week evening game –  there will be problems.

Over the years I’ve dealt with a number of complaints from fans that they’ve not made kick off in time due to congestion at the turnstiles. Invariably, the response from the club is “the fans arrived late” or “fans’ behaviour was a problem”.  Late is arriving a few minutes after kick off, not a few minutes before.

Frankly, it both saddens and angers me that in 2017 late arrivals and fan behaviour are still being wholly blamed for problems.

While behaviour of fans has improved dramatically over the decades, the habits of some of rocking up five minutes before kick-off will never change.

Problems on the roads shouldn’t ever be treated as a surprise occurrence. That a minority may behave like idiots is also a fact of life.  All of these factors should be taken into consideration and planned for and not treated like some sort of big, unmanageable surprise.

It’s absolutely right that the arrival times of supporters and their behaviour should be examined as contributory factors to any problems. But until how supporters are policed, stewarded and managed are properly and thoroughly examined too, then a question mark hangs over match day safety.

Finally, if fans, particularly away fans were treated like paying customers rather than potential public order problems then the mindset may be focussed more on safety rather than preventing disorder.

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.