‘It’s dangerous and not working’ – Sheffield Wednesday fans voice concerns over supporter safety management order

Sheffield Wednesday supporters say they fear for their safety due to restrictions imposed as part of a prohibition notice served on the club following disorder at the Steel City Derby.

Wednesday, 21st August 2019, 16:44 pm

The club was served with a prohibition notice by Sheffield Council which stops home fans being released from the north and south stands onto the Leppings Lane at the west end of the stadium.

Wednesday has lodged appeal paperwork to Sheffield Magistrates’ Court but fans described the situation after last night’s game against Luton Town as ‘absolute carnage’.

Victoria Wood, who was sat on the north stand, said: “I sit bang in the middle but would normally leave at the Leppings Lane end because I only live around the corner but last night was absolute carnage.

Scenes on the concourse of HIllsborough's north stand following Sheffield Wednesday's game against Luton Town. Picture: Rich Davies

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“I understand for bigger games something has to be done but last night there was literally about 20 fans. Besides from that, they should hold away fans back that’s what they do everywhere else.”

Ms Wood said there was no road or lane closures on Penistone Road after the game and raised concerns about fans’ safety, particular following night matches.

She added: “You have probably got 16,000 to 17,000 fans spilling out onto Penistone Road, which is a dual carriageway. It was pitch black and buses were hurtling past.

Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images.

“Everyone is trying to get out of one exit and there were people just falling into the road.”

Rich Davies, who was also sat on the north stand, said the restrictions were ‘not working’ and claimed fans were also left to queue onto Penistone Road before the game.

He said: “We stayed for about 10 minutes after the final whistle and clapped the players off and then when we walked down the steps to the concourse and they were queueing all the way up.

“I wouldn’t have liked my kids to have been in that last night. I’m not saying we were crushed but it wasn’t nice.”

Owls' caretaker manager Lee Bullen shows his delight at the full-time whistle after Wednesday ran out 1-0 winners. Picture: Steve Ellis

The notice was served on the eve of their first home game of the season against Barnsley and the club hit back with a strongly-worded statement saying it disagreed with both the decision and its timing.

Wednesday has now lodged appeal paperwork at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court and requested the licensing sub committee of Sheffield Council.

The club said in the interim, the north stand was currently ‘running at capacity with season ticket holders’ and ‘match by match tickets’ were not currently available there.

Wednesday apologised for inconvenience and urged fans to ‘listen to the advice of our stewards at all times’.

The prohibition notice comes after a report by Ben Cowcill, a crowd expert at Manchester Metropolitan University, who visited Hillsborough during Wednesday’s game with Aston Villa on April 6 – just a month after trouble flared at the Steel City derby.

His report, commissioned by South Yorkshire Police, said: “During this particular egress a number of flash points occurred.

“A number of rival fans engaging in a heated argument, with police resources needed to intervene and prevent any escalation. Coupled with the footage from the derby fixture this appears to be a potentially common theme and risk.”

The report also found there was not enough space outside the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough to ‘hold’ away supporters.

Speaking when the notice was first issued, Steve Lonnia, chairman of the council’s Safety Advisory Group SAG, said: “Following the submission of a report commissioned by South Yorkshire Police that highlighted issues with regards to public safety on the Leppings Lane forecourt at Hillsborough Stadium, the council and members of the group have worked very closely with Sheffield Wednesday to resolve these issues.

“As the certifying authority, public safety is of paramount importance and it is our duty to act on matters that pose a risk to the public. Due to the evidence presented in the report, we immediately requested that the club submit proposals to deal with the issues raised.

“A prohibition notice has been served that means there will be no access or egress from the North and South Stands on to the Leppings Lane forecourt for home supporters.

“Throughout this process we have worked together with Sheffield Wednesday to find a safe and acceptable solution to these issues and they have now submitted proposals in an attempt to address them. As the Certifying Authority we will now assess these with the other members of the Safety Advisory Group.”

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police said: “Ahead of each fixture in South Yorkshire, a risk assessment takes place with the club and when requested by the club, or when there is a heightened risk of disorder, South Yorkshire Police will support the match with a policing operation.

“On this occasion, as with many matches throughout the season, a policing presence at the ground was not requested.

“The safety of those attending sports stadiums and traffic management around it is the responsibility of the club.

“The Safety Advisory Group (SAG) of which we are one member, agreed the club’s plans on how fans were directed to leave the stadium.

“We would suggest any feedback on the exit from the stadium last night should be fed directly into Sheffield Wednesday for their consideration, ahead of planning for the next fixture.

“We will also seek a debrief with the club and the Safety Advisory Group to discuss further.”