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Fans organisations want answers to crushing problems outside the turnstiles
Tuesday, 25th Jan 2022 22:13 by Tim Whelan

It’s now happened twice in the space of six weeks. Turnstiles for the away section stopped working before our visit at Chelsea in December and at Saturday’s game at home to Newcastle led to a dangerous crush as fans tried to get in. Both times the authorities blamed the problem on the fans, leaving supporters groups to highlight problem and ask for change.

When Leeds fans complained about crushing outside Stamford Bridge on December 11th after the turnstile technology failed to work correctly, Chelsea's Supporter Services tried to blame the issues on the fans themselves. Their email said "A group of approximately 500 away supporters arrived approximately 20 minutes before kick-off and rushed the turnstiles causing significant disruption and slowed entry in that area.”

"A large number of those supporters were verbally and physically abusive towards Club Stewards and Police, while also attempting to gain unlawful entry to the stadium via fire exit doors, which other away supporters were attempting to open from inside to try and facilitate ticketless entry to the match”.

"The behaviour of those away fans resulted in an unpleasant overcrowding of the turnstile area. Order was subsequently restored and away supporters gained access via the turnstiles, including a group of 60 that Security and Police had held back for their own safety. It is a shame therefore that away fans’ behaviour marred your Stamford Bridge experience and that of others."

But this response has been rubbished by well-known Leeds fan and author Heidi Haigh, who re-wrote to Chelsea and shared her second email with the Yorkshire Post, to give it the wider audience it deserved. "I am astounded by your accusations. I was one of those people in the queue and I can assure you that no one rushed the turnstiles and despite queuing for 40 minutes I didn't get in until 12 minutes after kick-off.“

"The biggest issue you failed to act upon in your response, was the fact that the turnstiles were not operating correctly and malfunctioning which contributed to everyone not getting in as soon as they showed their tickets. The fact that not one person has taken accountability for this is unacceptable and blaming away fans for my experience when I was one of those, is frankly disgusting.”

"I do not accept what you have written and I feel it is a disgraceful response as well as a dereliction of duty and care to us on the day." The case has also been taken up by the Leeds United Supporters Trust, and a spokesperson told the Yorkshire Post "We are extremely disappointed to read the response from Chelsea Football Club to the feedback we provided from our recent visit to Stamford Bridge, which was submitted alongside the FSA and LUSC”.

"To attribute the issues solely to the behaviour of our fans is unacceptable, and to not acknowledge their part in what was a totally chaotic set up, is potentially dangerous for future visiting fans. The lack of remorse or accountability is not good enough and football fans deserve better. As a Trust, we can’t remember the last time we were so inundated with emails and social messages about the poor set up, organisation and ticket gate system failure”.

“We are astonished that the issues our fans encountered is being pushed back as “away fans’ behaviour. We won’t stop here. We are continuing to work with the FSA (The Football Supporters Association) and other supporter groups to take all the witness statements to the Independent Football Ombudsman. We will update fans as this progresses." Chelsea didn’t respond to the Yorkshire Post’s request for a comment, but lets hope that someone in authority forces them to sort their act out.

A similar scenario played out as Newcastle fans tried to get into the away section at Elland Road on Saturday, and once again there have been allegations the police and stewards on the ground failed to respond to the situation in a proper manner. The four turnstiles stopped working, so the 2,700 visiting fans had to be manually checked through one entrance by a steward.

Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust board member Thomas Concannon was at the game and told the Yorkshire Post he has spoken to more than a dozen witnesses. He said the situation was a “complete and utter nightmare. Where was the response to the faulty turnstiles. This should have escalated to the match controller as soon as they realised there was a problem.”

“Fans need to know what happened and why – and they deserve an apology. Many fans were left distressed by such a frightening episode.” And Newcastle fan Steve Wallwork told BBC Sport “I’m not a small lad so it wasn’t so bad for me, but my wife was with me. She’s a fair bit shorter and she was terrified, absolutely terrified.”

“The reaction of the stewards was unbelievable. My wife asked one: ‘What are you doing about it? We’re getting crushed’. He just put his head back laughing – absolutely disgraceful. I understand how frightening it was for some people. I was more frustrated and angry about it because somebody could have been badly hurt.”

Many fans only got into the stadium 20 minutes after the game had started and then couldn’t get to their correct seats because it was congested. There have been suggestions that some were sent to the upper section by stewards despite having tickets for the lower tier. And one of the Geordies tweeted “that away end is a disaster waiting to Happen, it’s so outdated and literally no room going up and down the stairs inside.”

At least our club is facing up to it’s responsibilities after the event, unlike a certain mob in West London. Leeds have acknowledged “complaints raised by some Newcastle supporters regarding issues experienced entering Elland Road on Saturday”. The club “will now work with the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust, West Yorkshire Police and our own safety team to review the issues raised, and ensure we continue to provide a safe environment for everyone attending our stadium”.

Let’s hope that both clubs and the safety authorities get to the bottom of the issues of why the turnstiles fail to work and sort out their safety procedures so they can act when things go wrong. Otherwise we could end up with yet another football tragedy on our hands before too long.

Photo: Action Images

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