This article is written by Hazel Corbett who had the pleasure of shadowing our safety officer, Lawrence Ellerby at the AFC Wimbledon home game. It’s a general view of what goes on behind the scenes on a match day and therefore applicable to the Safe Standing area. Many thanks to Hazel for a great article.
As a health and safety adviser for over 20 years mainly in construction and more recently the water industry to be given the opportunity to join Lawrence Ellerby and his team for a match day was a Busman’s holiday I couldn’t refuse. I joined the team on Saturday 2nd March, STFC v AFC Wimbledon. The Health and safety checks were aimed purely for all visitors coming to the grounds and through the stadium turnstiles. These safety checks actually start 48 hrs ahead of a game and continue on to the final lock up of the stadium after it has been cleared of all supporters and made secure.
All matches are assessed between Lawrence and the Police to determine the level of policing required for each game including reference to past season’s reports. This also influences the numbers of STFC stewards required to comply with the club’s safety certificate. All STFC Stewards go through high levels of NVQ training and on the morning of the Wimbledon game a number of our Stewards were having a training session and assessment review from an external assessor.
For the big games with high supporter attendance additional agency Stewards are brought in to meet the official guidance for Stewarding numbers. The same proportional assessment is used by the Police for their numbers and what ground presence they have and where they deploy in and around the Town. It is at the Police discretion to bring in the horses. First aid and paramedic support is supplied by British Red Cross and West Midlands Ambulance Service who were in the stadium during the morning carrying out emergency first aid and recovery training sessions working alongside stewards. Crowd and team doctors are also available.
As lunchtime approaches Stewards arrive and a pre-match briefing is delivered by Lawrence to the lead Stewards from each side of the Stadium and they in turn deliver the briefing to the rest of the supporting Stewards in their area, highlighting key facts and wider awareness of H&S topics.
Emergency systems are tested and switched to operational mode and radio control systems tested that connect the stewards to the Control Room. As an aside to the H&S checks, the PA and sound system and score board are tested.
The turnstiles open and fans start to arrive. Ongoing checks are undertaken around the stadium including the Fan Zone and parking. We also played host to supporters doing “The 92” and a group of school children here for the Match Day experience. Lawrence expertly delivering an overview of what happens in the Control Room.
Dilemma time for me! Do I take up my place in Safe Standing or stay with the Safety Team? Choosing to stay with Lawrence to see the match from a different view point, Safe Standing can wait until the next game. Kick Off – It’s fair to say I’d be rubbish as a Safety Officer! The conflict of wanting to watch the game singing with my comrades and shouting my sound advice to the Ref and the lads verses viewing the CCTV screens, watching the away fans whilst trying to block out their chants was all too distracting that I didn’t quite manage to catch it all. Half time and a review of the event so far was boisterous away fans doing percussion on the score board and some fans squirreling bottles of beer to drink when watching the game that were confiscated. Plus an assessment of the game so far.
At full time two Stewards have to escort the Football Officials off the pitch and, like all good matches, late drama of a Salop supporter deciding to go onto the pitch to have a few words with the Ref. Something that we’d all like to do but keep it to the confines of the stands. However a pitch incursion, even a celebratory one, is a breach of FA Rule E.20. STFC have to demonstrate that at every game due diligence is given to prevent pitch incursion and show efficiency in clearing a pitch should an event take place. A sobering thought when at the last home game of every season we happily do a pitch incursion naively believing that as it’s the last game it’s not a problem. The consequences are a fine to the club and the likelihood of a football ban for those apprehended. Even now I’m still staggered that our last game ‘on the pitch’ celebrations really shouldn’t be taking place! 24/7 365 the pitch is hallowed ground.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day with Lawrence and the Safety team and can’t thank them enough for their time and genial hospitality. I am pleased to have spent time with Stewards who you normally just pass by and have not a second thought as to what their duties entail. They are a very professional team who carry out their duties to a high standard and can take some amazing flack. It’s a fascinating world and my day has made me feel a little bit more part of the Club.