The main issues coming from Spurs fans were as follows:
· Insufficient number of turnstiles in operation at Stamford Gate
· Unhelpful stewards/police
· Ratio of stewards to away fans given the security operation in place
· Lack of communication from both police and stewards to fans
· Inadequate signage
· No apparent reactive plan in place to deal with congestion/crowd build up
· Lack of obvious control at turnstiles
· Management of police escort in terms of planning arrival at ground
After an unsatisfactory initial response which did little to alleviate our concerns, identify any of the contributory factors that led to severe delays and overcrowding at the Stamford Gate entrance or accept responsibility for a third of our allocation missing up to a quarter of a match they’d paid £60 to watch, we were invited to a meeting to discuss the events of the 3 December in more detail by the Head of Security at CFC.
We were happy to accept the invitation and had hoped to include representatives of Liverpool’s fan group, Spirit of Shankly, in those discussions after a similar incident ahead of their COC SF at Stamford Bridge on 27 January. We’d also hoped to have representation from the Football Supporters’ Federation, who offer expertise and ongoing support in the areas of policing and safety and, finally, we had asked for presence from Chelsea’s Supporters’ Trust as the home fan group, in the interests of best practice.
CFC insisted on meeting only with representatives of THST on this occasion, also declining a request from THFC to have a senior staff member present and so the meeting went ahead on 23 April with the Head of Security and the Deputy Safety Officer at CFC, along with the Environmental Health Officer at Hammersmith and Fulham Local Authority and with Katrina Law and Kevin Fitzgerald from THST.
Our objectives were to cover each of the areas of concern listed above, review the existing policing/ stewarding/ crowd management policy at Chelsea, assess what had been learned that night, identify the actions needed to improve the visitor entry system moving forward and, finally, to push for formal supporter involvement pre and post future Category C/ C IR fixtures.
Here’s a summary of the meeting:
- CFC’s Head of Security (HOS) opened up by recognising events had not gone well on the night of 3 December 2014. He stated it was in no-ones interest to be dealing with difficult situations such as those ahead of the Chelsea v Spurs match and that they were keen to hear our views on how things could be improved for future fixtures
- HOS talked through the plan for that night
o Spurs had taken the maximum allocation of 3000 tickets for the match
o All 3000 were to enter via Stamford Gate
o Spurs fans were allocated seats in both the upper and lower tiers
o 1900 seats in the upper tier, served by 5 turnstiles [380 people per turnstile]
o 1100 seats in the lower tier, served by 3 turnstiles [366 people per turnstile]
o The number of turnstiles had been maximised – it was not possible to fit any more into the space available
o CFC’s Deputy Safety Officer (DSO) talked THST through a diagram of their flow management system
o The flow management system, in theory, made complete sense and was the result of many years of direct experience of managing crowds at Stamford Bridge
o CFC regulate the flow of fans from the minute they enter Stamford Gate from Fulham Road. This is to alleviate pressure from the turnstiles, which are located at the end of an ever narrowing passageway. It’s designed to keep an even flow to the turnstiles and ultimately to prevent overcrowding at the point of entry
o Fans are held in holding boxes by stewards at various stages from turning into Stamford Gate to reaching the turnstiles
o There were 14 police officers and 2 sergeants on duty that night in the vicinity of the away entrance to support stewards if necessary
o Spurs sent 12 travel stewards, 6 of whom were deployed at the first holding box and 6 at the turnstiles
o Fans are progressed through the holding boxes and lines of stewards and police at a pace designed to maintain a smooth flow up to the turnstiles
o This pace is dictated by the DSO and 2 Chief Stewards on the ground, assisted by those with an aerial view from the control room
o The entire process should take 6 minutes on average from turning into Stamford Gate to getting through the turnstiles, including ticket checks to ensure fans are in the correct queue for the Upper/ Lower tiers and security checks
o It is worth noting that the Stamford Gate entrance is not exclusively used by away supporters. Home fans pass through on their way to the East stand and there are restaurants and two Hotels also located on this part of the complex
- HOS then talked through the events of the night of 3 December
o Using CCTV stills taken at 5 minute intervals from 7.15pm onwards, HOS talked through the flow rates and significant trigger points
o At 7.15pm, the Gate was relatively clear with a slow build up of fans arriving over the next ten minutes at a manageable rate. The flow was steady at this stage
o At 7.27pm, approximately 400 Spurs fans arrived in a police escort from Earls Court
o The police escort had not been part of the original operational plan and the club became aware of the group as they approached the ground. This was the first time in a long while this had occurred at a domestic match at Stamford Bridge
o There was an acknowledgement that approximately 400 fans being delivered to the Gate in one go at 7.27pm had created problems
o With evening matches, the walk up flow increases significantly in the ten minutes before kick off and the escort exacerbated that
o CFC would not be drawn into too much detail on the reasoning for a police escort as the Met were not represented at the meeting
o By 7.35pm, the volume of fans being held in the Stamford Gate holding boxes was significant
o By 7.40pm, fans were tightly packed in and the Gate is overcrowded
o By the time the match started at 7.45pm, 982 of our 3000 allocation were still outside the stadium
o The last fans were processed through the turnstiles by 8.05pm, twenty minutes after kick off
- HOS referred to THST’s fan accounts, which had been read, and accepted that the general feedback was both positive and negative but reflected the strength of feeling
- KL questioned the turnstile set up on the night as she had witnessed the far left turnstile out of action for the lower tier. HOS explained that the flow reports indicated all turnstiles had been operational at all times but would investigate this further
- Clearly, were a turnstile to be out of action, that would reduce the entry rate significantly
- KL enquired as to the average time taken to process one person through a turnstile and DSO confirmed this was 3 or 4 seconds
- The turnstiles at Stamford Bridge are bar code readers, which theoretically speed up the entrance process
- KF questioned the traffic light system visible on the turnstiles from further back in the queue. DSO confirmed these were not indicating ‘working’ or ‘not working’ rather Green indicated an Adult ticket, Amber a Concession and Red a faulty or forged ticket
- DSO confirmed a steward was deployed on each turnstile to quickly resolve any Red light issues
- DSO also confirmed that turnstile engineers were on hand to quickly repair any mechanical or electrical issues in the run up to a match
- It was agreed that whilst the flow system worked well in principle, it was put under severe pressure when up to 1500 fans arrive in a ten minute period
- There was an understanding that any ground would struggle to quickly and safely process that volume of fans in that time scale ahead of kick off
- The question was what could be done at Stamford Bridge to alleviate the pressure for next time
- KL had suggested easing off searching fans at the head of the last holding box before the turnstiles at times of extreme pressure to speed up the flow rate
- HOS explained searching was routine and a local authority requirement and this wouldn’t be a decision taken lightly
- KL asked how much influence and input the Metropolitan Police had over the management of the entry process. HOS confirmed this was a CFC operation with the police not routinely involved
- Regarding the Stewards on duty that evening, HOS confirmed they were agency staff used regularly by CFC. The team leaders are the same each time and the turnover of stewards is minimal. CFC stressed that no steward worked at Stamford Bridge without undertaking a full familiarisation programme to ensure good knowledge of the lay out of the stadium etc. CFC also confirmed that the Senior Supervisors had been at Stamford Bridge for many years
- THFC send Travel Stewards to each away match at Chelsea and have done so for numerous seasons. They are the only PL club to send their own stewards. The premise here is it’s good for away fans to see familiar faces and helps ensure a better communication process all round. THFC stewards have no operational responsibility or input into the procedures in place at Chelsea, however. Involving THFC Travel Stewards in a more useful way as part of an information and comms process was thought to be worth exploring
- The conversation now moved onto what areas could be improved ahead of the next Chelsea v Spurs match, particularly were this to be another evening match. Accessing Stamford Bridge for weekend afternoon games had put the system under nowhere near as much pressure recently as mid week evening games
- THST stressed the need for improved communications – be this audio via loud speakers/ mega phones or visuals – improved signage and messaging
- When people are held in queues for long periods of time with no updates or information, it’s natural to become impatient and agitated. Telling people why they are being held and when they’ll be on the move is key here
- THST suggested visuals along the queue line indicating “Wait time – 15 minutes from here/ 10 minutes from here etc.” to manage expectations also
- DSO confirmed that CFC do liaise closely with THFC ahead of our matches but the point raised by THST that fans aren’t getting the information they need was conceded
- THST explained the communication channels open to us, including social media, where we could quickly put out messaging in the build up to a match and also explained the work undertaken with South Yorkshire Police where we helped with a bigger communications piece in the run up to the COC SF at Bramall Lane
- THST offered to publicise advice from CFC in the run up to our next game
- There was an acceptance that should 1500-2000 fans arrive 10 minutes before kick off again, with 8 turnstiles going at full pelt, it would still be impossible to process everyone through before kick off
- Therefore, both Clubs and THST needed to articulate to fans better this reality – there is an entry process system in place that takes on average 6 minutes, however this is at least doubled in the ten minutes before kick off. If fans are fully aware of the time it will take to move through the flow system and know arriving at 7.30pm means kick off will be missed in all likelihood, then that is at least useful information whilst not being ideal
- Similarities were drawn with the messaging around attending European Away matches where fans were routinely told to arrive in good time and expect delays entering the stadium
- Ways of getting fans to the ground earlier were discussed and it was felt the new District Line trains, which held 1100 people, could cope with the volume and that there were sufficient tubes running on the Wimbledon branch on match days as it stood so additional public transport was not needed
- THST stressed the importance of involving supporter groups in the planning for Category C matches or Increased Risk games in future. There was a push for fan input to Safety Advisory Groups and CFC acknowledged that the model was being set by the meetings ahead of Wembley matches, such as the one involving THST at New Scotland Yard ahead of the COC Final in March.
- CFC undertook to continue the dialogue with THST and THFC ahead of the repeat 2015-16 fixture and THST agreed to work with both CFC and THFC to ensure Spurs fans were given as much information as possible both in advance and on the match day itself
The meeting, whilst a lot more positive and constructive than we had reason to expect, had limited success in terms of real take outs. We were hoping for a solution to stop a repeat of the events of 3 December happening again but were left to concede that the system in place is sensible in theory and works well until it comes under severe strain during pinch points such as those between 7.30 and 7.40pm that evening.
CFC demonstrated a willingness to accept responsibility for the implementation of safe systems of operation and acknowledge that the situation that occurred before this game was unsatisfactory. They also expressed a desire to avoid a repeat next season and understood why paying customers were unhappy with the experience and, especially, with missing a good chunk of the match.
There was also no mention of the default position normally displayed during similar discussions - blaming drunken fans for a late walk up - with CFC taking on board some of the comments levelled at the stewarding and organisation on the night by our fans in their written accounts.
Our questioning around the turnstile set up, the stewarding arrangements, police involvement and overall chain of command was relevant to the problem and provided us with a good platform for further consultation before our next match at Chelsea.
Improving communications with fans ahead of the fixture was agreed to be key and we expect that to be implemented both via Club and Trust channels in the run up to the game and on the ground at the Stamford Gate on match day itself.
We’d like the turnstiles fully checked to ensure all 8 are operational and a better understanding of how the general flow rate from holding box to holding box to turnstile is paced, especially at pinch times in the ten minutes pre kick off.
The real takeout here is that fans are now being consulted with on these issues. We need to make progress in strengthening communication with the police, and in ensuring that the police, stewards, clubs and the fan groups involved in games are aware of each other’s approaches and issues, and that there is a co-ordinated response to any problems.
We’re pleased that some constructive discussion was had at this meeting, and look forward to preparing for the next game at Stamford Bridge in detail with reps from both clubs, the police, and supporter groups.
30 April 2015