Overcrowding fears at Hillsborough football ground classed as a ‘near miss’ by safety investigators

A safety incident at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium last year when there were concerns of overcrowding for away fans was labelled as a “near miss” by a licensing body investigation.
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Sheffield City Council is the licensing body issuing safety certificates for both Sheffield Wednesday and United grounds. The Hillsborough incident during a match against Newcastle United was discussed at a meeting of Sheffield City Council’s waste and street scene committee (March 13).

The committee was looking at an updated safety advisory group policy for the city. The group brings together key council officials such as the chief licensing officer and the health and safety enforcement team with a range of interested parties such as the emergency services and club stadium management or safety officers to manage safety issues.

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A supporters’ representative will now be included in the group, councillors heard.

Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United grounds - football crowd safety was discussed by Sheffield councillorsSheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United grounds - football crowd safety was discussed by Sheffield councillors
Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United grounds - football crowd safety was discussed by Sheffield councillors

Coun Mark Jones said that he remembered seeing the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, when 97 Liverpool fans were killed, on TV as a child. He said that as an away fan later visiting Hillsborough he suffered anxiety that he still recalls.

He also remembered having a police horse stand on his foot and being told to move towards a wall on his first visit to Sheffield United.


He added: “We’ve seen complaints from Newcastle United about their anxiety about stadiums in Sheffield, rightly or wrongly – I don’t want to downplay the incident but I don’t want to over-egg it, either.”

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Sheffield Wednesday had its capacity in the away end Upper and Lower West stands reduced after complaints from Newcastle United fans of overcrowding after an FA Cup tie on January 7, 2023.

The minutes of a meeting of the safety advisory group on January 20, 2023 state: “A photograph and report posted on social media by a journalist showing fans congregated around the tunnel on the Leppings Lane Lower Stand purported to show fans in distress and a lack of stewarding. The image was taken nine minutes before kick-off.”

Other measures proposed included better CCTV coverage of tunnels, changes to stewarding, closing some toilets to increase circulation areas and high-level risk assessments to be undertaken by the club before another major match could take place.

Matt Proctor, sports grounds and events lead officer, said: “The Newcastle United incident you referred to we investigated as a local authority certifying authority responsible for issuing the safety certificate and we classified it as a near miss.

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“The initial concerns were raised by a journalist’s photograph and we actually reached out to Newcastle United supporters to give their insight into exactly what their actual concerns were about being at that particular end of that particular stadium.


“It’s fair to say that when we received responses from Newcastle supporters they raised different issues to the issues raised by the journalist and we carried out a full investigation. We classed it as a near miss and alterations have been made to the operation of that particular stadium as a result of the feedback.”

Coun Jones welcomed the inclusion of a supporters’ representative on the group and asked if the council was looking for more general feedback from visiting fans.

Mr Proctor responded: “Going forward, we welcome any sort of contact from football supporters’ associations, any sort of local supporters’ associations for visiting teams, and we will fully investigate any complaints that we receive.”

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Coun Alexi Dimond referred to an incident of racism at Sheffield Wednesday and asked if racism was considered as part of safety discussions.

He commented: “People will not feel safe or players will not feel safe if they are subject to racist abuse. Can this be added to the policy?”

Mr Proctor replied: “A recent incident is being investigated by South Yorkshire Police and an individual is subject to criminal actions. It sits slightly outside the policy.”


He said that the clubs are responsible for dealing with racist incidents. If they become a safety concern because they cause public order issues, that would be investigated by the safety group.

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Clubs also have to have crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour plans in place with a statement of intent on when they would involve the police.

He said that Sheffield Wednesday is very proactive and runs a text reporting line where fans concerned at supporters “uttering profanities” or using homophobic or racist terms during a match can report them directly to the safety officer. They can then be removed.

Coun Mike Chaplin questioned why the policy proposes dropping in-match inspections from six to four a year per club. Mr Proctor said that it is a minimum number in the policy. If extra visits to grounds are thought necessary, they will take place.

Hillsborough ward Coun Christine Gilligan-Kubo asked: “I am also wondering how much you look at what happens outside the stadium.

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“Obviously a lot of roads are closed lot of roads are closed and there is an awful lot of illegal parking which does cause potential safety incidents.”


She asked if traffic management is considered by the safety group. Mr Proctor replied that clubs do not have a legal responsibility for traffic management but accept a moral responsibility.

At Sheffield Wednesday, there is an ‘X Zone’ where roads are closed, he said. At Hillsborough, a traffic app is available for residents to see which roads are closed.

Mr Proctor added: “Parking is quite an emotive issue on match days. It’s been raised at advisory group meetings. ”

Committee members agreed to approve the content of the revised safety certification and safety advisory group policy document.