Cambridge United Test Event – ObservationsPeter Houghton
As Covid-19 figures show the number of cases increasing in various parts of the country, it is in danger of putting a sharp point in the tyres of our industry’s attempts to get football with spectators fully on stream.
The original date of 1 October looks as though it is approaching a little too quickly as we wrestle with getting everything up to speed so that we can begin the process of part-filling our grounds. Local lockdowns by the government may well have an effect as to whether we can open up from 1 October and our robust and resilient members will continue to work hard to be in a position to deliver safe places to watch football at the earliest opportunity.
As we are aware several events, including football matches have been sanctioned as Test Events by the SGSA. The experience of Brighton & Hove Albion v Chelsea in a pre-season friendly looks to have been an overwhelming success.
The second such match held at Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium presented many different challenges. Not only was it a competitive match, an EFL Trophy match between the hosts and Fulham U-21, which United won 2-0, but it also involved the introduction of around 850 spectators using each side of the round, which included standing areas as well as seating decks.
The hosts invited safety officers from other EFL clubs to attend and take a look at the measures and mitigations they put into place for this match and a number of you have reported back to the FSOA office on how it all looked.
The overwhelming consensus was, once again, that it was a complete success, with Andy Pickard and his team having worked very hard to ensure that signage and systems were in position to ensure that the SG02 Guidance provided by the SGSA was met.
During the SGSA Webinar on Friday, the SGSA’s Head of Inspectorate, Ken Scott, who performed the Trojan task of writing the guidance said that there were some “learnings” to be had from both matches which he will share with us once available.
Below are comments made by safety officers attending the Abbey Stadium to observe the Operation.
50pc additional stewards likely to be required. CUFC usually have 50 stewards for matches and tonight for 862 compliant home fans they used 75.
All 4 stands used and half of it is seated. All those in seats were compliant and their 1-way system worked well.
Plenty of messages via PA as no scoreboard – please wear face masks or coverings at all times, please stay in your seats but if you need to leave your seat do so in a safe and suitable manner and remain socially distanced, please wait to be let out by stewards which worked with 200 fans in each stand. The test will be when the number of fans is increased.
Additional 30 toilets and 95 sanitisers and 30 temp check machines.
CUFC sold season tickets for whole season ie season ticket holders secured the same seat for the whole of the season even if not their normal seat. Easier for the ticket office however I am not sold on this as people may prefer to move around plus all online and what happens if fans get banned again due to a Covid spike.
Idea from the SGSA Soft ticket check with a scanner as this allows the gates to be used rather than turnstiles so less of a Covid risk. CUFC used turnstiles with operators using pedals to release them. All operators protected by Perspex guard.
Loads of red arrows to show the movement system.
1 eatery for each stand which sold soft drinks and no bars.
No searching and bag checks overly thorough.
No significant queues and fans followed instructions.
Ball kept being thrown back on without being sanitised.
Ball staff were young people from the Academy.
Subs – no social distancing with them sitting together.
Fans made a lot of noise which must have helped the players. No crowd control required and fans were just pleased to be back in. Stewards used for movement deployments primarily.
CUFC has not considered face-covering exemptions but will now.
No SAG consistency – PAFC 128 page Stage 3 and 1 bcd match nearly pulled, CUFC 8 page Stage 5. SGSA advice is to refer “troublesome” SAGs to them if they seek to go outside national guidance. The SGSA has consulted widely prior to producing their guidance including DCMS, Movement Strategies.
Overall worked very well.
Other bullet points included:-
Consider taking seats or rows out that aren’t in use.
‘Brush past’ needs to be with the person who is accessing their seat, sidestepping across the person they are passing with their back to them.
Consider the impact of people who are used to standing or sitting might have to do the opposite and it might see some resistance.
Consider putting single seats in areas together so that clubs aren’t ‘wasting’ seats near groups who are in a bubble.
Submit to local authority maximum capacity figures so that changes don’t need to be passed by the SAG at every event.
Consider the impact of media watching everything that is happening
One individual will cost 8 seats.
Consider arrows on the floor from turnstiles to toilets/refreshments etc
Environmental health and public health bodies are new kids on the block. There is the possibility they might turn up and use their powers
SGSA plans are the only ones authorised by Government. One club had been told that the local EHO was going to draw up their own plans!
There had been an approximate uplift of around 50% in steward numbers at Cambridge United.
Consider the male/female ratio against your ticketing database for tickets sold for any particular event so you can plan for the possibility of extra toilets if required.
Could use exit gates as a means of entry if you have a good, reliable ticketing system and have other control measures in place to stop illegal entry.
Cambridge had made it mandatory for all supporters (and staff) to be wearing face masks.
A few clubs had mentioned that they had been put under pressure from senior management to reduce steward numbers only for them to be shocked when they made them aware that they would not only need normal numbers but also extras to implement the further measures.
I thought this event was managed very well with plenty of stewards on duty, good signage, good communication with supporters on entry and via the club website and social media channels. Around 800 tickets had been sold of a possible 1000 that were available.
Temperature checks were being taken at the turnstiles, hand sanitiser stations on entry & good directional signage. No tickets were sold on the day so ‘test, track and trace’ had already been dealt with before the event.
The only point I noted that could have been improved was stewards searching should have had gloves on. I am guessing there were others but I’ve not seen the de-brief report.
The standing sections seemed to provide the biggest challenge for the safety team, and I suspect this be mirrored in many stadiums when we go “live”. Encouraging people to stand apart is not easy, especially if they are fans that traditionally stand together.
Cambridge United Safety Officer Andy Pickard told me:
See below my comments on the Fulham report and one thing I found very useful was working alongside Ian the Stadium Manager, we walked the stadium many times over a few days confirming and checking how we wanted the arrows implemented around the stadium.
Would like to make the point that we worked with all parties very closely and discussed our plans with SGSA, local Authority, Environmental health, Movement strategies, Club media, Club ticket office, Stadium management team.
CUFC would normally have 55 stewards as a starting point when all sections of the stadium are open, due to Covid conditions and extra 20 stewards worked the Fulham fixture. I have had the full support of the Club Directors and Management with no issues with regards to staffing levels.
Due to the design of the stadium toilets only having one door into and out of the toilets in three areas of the stadium we made the decision to replace the toilets in these areas with portaloo’s to provide a safer environment and speed up the use rate during busy times. The toilets in the south stand were used as normal due to having two doors one for entry and one for exit but numbers entering the toilets were managed with a maximum of two people in the facility at any time. The club brought in 15 portaloo’s + 1 mobility toilet and this worked very well with low numbers of people queuing. The toilets were all socially distanced within the stadium rather than having a bank of toilets in one area. The toilet calculation was based on male-female ticket sales information.
CUFC ticket office along with the club media made supporters fully aware of the situation when buying a season ticket this season. As you are aware we worked very closely with Movement strategies and jointly worked out a stadium layout and design to provide the safest Covid environment that included directional areas from the point of walking up to the stadium to working out our Covid capacity in each area of the stadium. Season ticket holders were informed that availability was limited and that supporters requesting a terrace ticket would get a terrace ticket and that would also be the case with supporters requesting a seat ticket, what we could not guarantee was that get their original seat due to social distancing but in most cases, they would get the same seat for each fixture this was also thought to make it better should we need to track and trace people. We also ensured that should we have to play behind closed doors that season ticket holders receive free access to I-Follow to watch home games and this has proved to be very agreeable and successful with season ticket holders.
SOFT TICKET CHECK AREA
We as a club did have soft check areas in place on the perimeter of the stadium undertaking temperature checks before supporters reached the turnstiles and had anybody shown signs of high temperature they would not have been permitted to enter the stadium footprint. We believe it was safer for our supporters to enter through a turnstile that was selected for social distancing than have a direct face to face scan on an exit gate. Our stiles offered both the supporter and member of staff protection via a full screen along with being issued masks and gloves and hand sanitiser on the entrance of the turnstiles and then again when entering the stadium.
CUFC had ball sanitisation in place, balls were in place around the perimeter track that had been sanitised and placed on a small disc for the players to pick up. We accept that not all players will pick up a ball from the sanitised station due to the speed of the game. But to confirm CUFC did have a ball sanitisation procedure in place with scholars who fit within the players’ bubble carrying out the sanitising.
1)Due to the size of the staff at CUFC it is not practical to remove seats or rows of seats that are in use and it is very likely that the seat fixings would create a separate problem in creating trip hazards with the bolts that remain in the concrete. We will opt for taping off areas with no access.
3)We as a club considered the impact of people who are used to standing & sitting and opened up what would normally be sections for away supporters to ensure those who wished to stand had the opportunity and those who sit also had that option and to date we have not had a single complaint, in fact, it has been the opposition supporters were just grateful to get to see a game. Good media communication and understanding helped to make this situation work.
8) The installation of directional arrows to reduce the risk of supporters passing in opposite directions was very well received by supporters and proved to work very well on the night.
11) The uplift of stewards went from 55 to 75 we did not have an increase of 50%
12) Could use exit gates as a means of entry if you have a good, reliable ticketing system and have other control measures in place to stop illegal entry. This is not a practice that we would even consider owing to the fact that if our scanning system did go down, by still using our turnstiles we would still have an effective monitoring system based in the control room monitoring the numbers coming in from each section, with an overall total.
13) With reference to searching fans, this was a low key match we only search bags in the home section of the ground and also by doing this helps keep the social distancing.
If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.
Tel: 07946 582780
So, well done Andy. It cannot be easy being the “guinea pig” with an additional audience of colleagues, but I’m certain that any comments made above by them were designed as an opinion to help and your operation will form one of the yardsticks to be followed in going forward as the fans return to our stadiums.