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Case Studies

Persistent standing: a football balance

Electronic security, and careful stewarding, are a necessary balance in football stadium security generally, but also to deal with the running problem of persistent standing in all-seater stands.

Persistent standing at all-seater football stadia – all-seated by law since the Taylor Report after the deaths of 96 fans at Hillsbrough in Sheffield in 1989 – is a bugbear for stadium safety managers, and for fans who have their view of the action blocked. It can become a security problem if tempers fray during a game which can be fraught for spectators at the best of times. The regulators the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) says that they are aware of spectators being assaulted when they asked those standing to sit down. Spectators who do not wish to stand may feel threatened and intimidated by those who do. According to the authority, while there is no automatic correlation between standing in seated areas and misbehaviour, there is evidence that some groups of standing spectators regularly adopt a hostile attitude to stewards and to the authorities. As an SGSA report says, standing is not only a safety issue but is about customer care, and crowd management and behaviour. It’s not a new problem; the previous body, the FLA (Football Licensing Authority), published a paper in 2002.

So? It may hit clubs’ finances because of the increases in the number of women, children and older people attending matches; if they are prevented from seeing or enjoying matches in popular areas of a stadium, they may choose to stop coming. While some fans disagree, the SGSA and councils that licence stadia see standing as a safety issue. The SGSA says that it’s aware of incidents where spectators were injured by other spectators falling down the gangways in which they were standing. The SGSA promotes what it calls a concerted and consistent approach; and risk assessment. Where that risk assessment identifies that spectators may stand persistently it is down to management to produce a plan for addressing the issue. For example a club with persistent standing found a risk of spectators blocking gangways. The traditional way of reducing that risk is to remove the last two seats in each row from sale. As the stand in question had an 85 per cent occupancy by season ticket holders, relocating season ticket holders to different seats would have created problems. The club took another approach; it employed an extra two stewards for each gangway. Their sole job was to patrol the gangways to keep them clear of spectators. This approach has proved a success.

The SGSA has brought out three case studies of unidentified clubs, that show clubs can minimise the risks from persistent standing, and satisfy most fans, the regulators and police, and protect their match-day income.

1) A Championship club

The club observed more persistent standing in one of their stands. During the close season the local council sent a written warning that if by the start of the third home game of the season such standing was not reduced so that supporters persistently standing could be dealt with, the council would expect the club to remove some rows of seating, for safety reasons. In other words, the club would lose ticket income. Hence the club ran a publicity campaign in local newspapers and radio; made announcements over the PA (public address) at games and set out the case to match day stewards; and supporters, via a ‘Fans Parliament’.

Despite club efforts to get supporters to understand the need to voluntarily remain seated, this did not happen. Towards the end of the season there were games where all 5,000 plus supporters in a stand with seats were standing. Some fans, most notably the elderly or those with children, complained; they wished to remain seated but could see little or nothing of the match. Next,
the club wrote to every season ticket holder in the stand, enclosing a copy of the letter to the club from the council, and set out the consequences for the club if the fans continued to stand. The club bought an extra CCTV camera, to cover the supporters in the stand where persistent standing was a problem, with a view to identifying those who stood persistently, and ban them. In the letter to the season ticket holders the club made it clear that it would be using the CCTV in that way.

A lesson the club learned was the need for CCTV kit which could produce high enough quality images of faces, even at games under floodlights. A lesson too was that an electronic access control system made it easier to withdraw tickets from supporters identified as persistently standing. Although stewards will offer general warning to spectators about the consequences of standing, the club does not give written warnings are given in advance of withdrawing the access to standers. The club feels that the publicity they have given, and still give – including facebook and twitter – is enough. This approach has reduced standing by more than 80 per cent – in other words, it has not totally eliminated persistent standing.

2) A new stadium

Another club moved to a new stadium. While not seeking to condone standing in any areas of the new ground the club took a decision that while there should be zero tolerance of standing in some parts of the ground, for example in the stand that housed the family section, there would be others where there would be greater tolerance; but the club would work through the stewards to eradicate it. Before any spectator could buy a season ticket for any part of the ground, they were required to attend a presentation which included the behaviour that the club would expect of supporters. The club made it clear to anyone buying a ticket for those areas where there was to be zero tolerance that if they stood they could expect their ticket to be withdrawn. Such an approach was made easier by the fact the stadium had electronic access control.

Now away fans, though fewer as a rule than home fans, tend to be more likely to be persistent standers. The quality of the spectator seating offered to the visiting supporters is of the same quality as that offered to the home supporters. To make the visiting supporters “feel at home”, lighting is used to dress the away section in the visiting team’s colours; the beer and refreshments available reflect what is popular at the visiting teams’ ground; and TV screens in concourses show action from the visiting teams’ matches. The effect? Again, it has not stopped all standing but has contained it. The club feels that the approach of making visiting spectators feel welcome has led to generally better behaviour.

3) Premier

In a third case, for several seasons a Premiership club had not been allowed to sell the entire capacity of the ground’s away section to the supporters of some teams, as thanks to the visitors’ persistent standing the council had imposed on the club a varying number of seat ‘kills’ to address the problem. The revenue lost, in some cases, was £40,000 a match. The club sought a dual approach: an education / communication strategy; and enforcement if necessary.

Letters went to home supporters who persistently stood in their own areas of the stadium, asking them to sit down and so assist the club in dealing with the away supporters (so that away fans could not feel justified by standing if they saw home fans standing also). Letters to the visiting clubs informing them of the intention to welcome the visiting fans and to allow them the maximum number of seats possible. The letter also stated that, in return, the expectation would be that supporters would sit; and pointed out the consequence of losing more seats if this did not happen (namely, some fans would not be able to attend). A leaflet with every away ticket set out the proposed approach. Letters of consultation went to supporters groups, which included the offer of meetings to explain the proposals, so that the visitors knew what was not acceptable and why. Kiosk staff had caps and shirts supplied by the away club in the colours of the visiting team. The visiting club brought some of its own stewards; and home stewards had extra training in ‘customer support’. Extra stewards and police in the visiting section had the remit of striking a balance between extending a welcome and enforcement. Signage welcomed the visitors. Concourse TV showed highlights from previous matches involving the visitors.

Barriers outside the visiting turnstiles allowed a more controlled and less intrusive access; namely, to deter the practice of two supporters pushing through at the same time. The ground regulations were enforced by stewards inspecting tickets and ensuring each supporter sat in the seat allocated to the ticket. Although the work came at a cost, such as the extra police, and is labour intensive and more demanding of stewards, the club consider it financially justifiable, as the local authority has agreed to raise the ground capacity.

About the SGSA

The Sports Grounds Safety Authority is a London-based government body that took over the responsibilities of the Football Licensing Authority. It operates a licensing scheme to regulate the spectator viewing accommodation at Premier and Football League grounds, Wembley and the Millennium Stadium and regulates the issue and monitoring of Safety Certificates by local authorities.

For the SGSA report in full on persistent standing visit – http://www.safetyatsportsgrounds.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/standing-in-seated-areas-2013.pdf


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