A Sheffield MP has called a for a review of the safety arrangements at Bramall Lane after he was caught up in a crush outside the Steel City Derby.
Lifelong Wednesday fan and Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts has written Sheffield United Football Club, Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Police asking for a review to be undertaken in relation to the ground’s safety.
He says the crush which developed while away fans were trying to gain access to the stadium was very dangerous and could easily have resulted in a much more serious incident.
He said: “A very dangerous situation developed outside the turnstiles for the Sheffield Wednesday fans at Bramall Lane last Friday evening before the derby game. This was when fans were queueing to gain access to the ground. I was one of those fans. There were only three turnstiles to give access to the whole of the away end. There just wasn’t enough capacity to get the fans into the ground in a timely way. This resulted in a significant build-up of people in a very narrow area.
“It led to crushing and it could so easily have been a much more serious situation. It was just luck that people were not seriously injured. I was in the crush. It was extremely uncomfortable. Women were screaming and crying near to me. I would have been extremely worried if any younger child had been in the queue. I have not experienced a crush outside a football ground like this for a long time, and I have visited most league football grounds in the country.
“Many fans spoke to me on Friday night and have contacted me since asking me to take this issue up. There were no stewards or police trying to deal with the crush itself outside the ground. The stewards were stood by the gates and were clearly helpless to do anything about it. In my view three turnstiles is not sufficient for the number of people who the away end accommodates. However, last Friday night, the problem was clearly exacerbated by malfunctioning of the electronics on the turnstile system, which meant that one or other of the turnstiles stopped working and one of the stewards had to come along and deal with the problem.
“So, effectively, the three-turnstile capacity was not available. There was a similar, though less serious, problem last season. It appears that either the number of turnstiles has to be increased, new queueing arrangements arranged or the away capacity has to be reduced.”
Mr Betts has also questioned the wisdom of playing such high profile fixtures on Friday nights.
He added: “Going into the ground, Wednesday fans were given very little space. We had to walk to the away end through a very narrow passage between two police cordons with United fans trying to get at the Wednesday fans in quite an aggressive way. One young Wednesday supporter walking just in front of me was viciously attacked by someone coming through the police cordon, thumping him to the ground. This very narrow space contributed to the problems of crushing outside the turnstiles in my view.
“I understand that, under the Safety At Sports Ground Act, calculations have to be made about the ability of turnstiles to give access in a certain period of time to a part of the ground. I presume that the calculation about what is safe would also take account of what would happen if one or other of the turnstiles were not operating for any period of time, which is what happened last Friday.”
“By way of balance, let me say that I thought that the arrangements for fans organised by the police at the end of the game were exemplary. I know the police have major reservations about whether the Sheffield derbies or matches with Leeds should be played on a Friday evening. I think the police have every right to say they think there is a problem with policing these games and insist that they be played at other times. I would certainly back them if they do that. We ought to put the safety of fans and the general public before the interests and money of the television companies.”
Mr Betts has followed the team to away matches for more than 40 years, chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Football Group and was at the FA Cup Semi-final at Hillsborough in April 1989 when 96 people lost their lives.
A spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police said: “We are aware of the issues raised by Mr Betts MP and these will form a key part of our debrief which is due to take place next week. The learning from this will shape future policing operations.
“Whilst overall the policing operation went well, this game further highlights issues around scheduling for television and we will be consulting with the clubs and Safety Advisory Group before writing to the Football League to highlight these issues.
“We are also in the process of establishing an Independent Advisory Group in relation to football to ensure we understand the views of the clubs, fans, local residents and businesses affected by the policing operation of football matches. We will be writing to potential members in the coming weeks.”