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John Rutherford speaks to FC Magazine

The Football Club Safety Officer – Preparing for the season ahead.
John Rutherford – Safety Officer, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club

It’s May 2015 and the dust has settled on another season, the Leagues and Cups have been won, promotion and relegation have been decided, and the coaching staff and players have all gone off for their summer holidays.

The club safety officer doesn’t get the break that the others do. Every year without fail someone will say to me ‘now that the matches are all finished it will be all quiet for you now John, what do you do during the summer?’

All quiet? You must be joking. The summer is the busiest time for the club safety officer.

As soon as the season is finished the stadium is inspected by the Fire Service, the police, the ambulance service, building standards and environmental health, a structural engineer carries out a full inspection of the stadium and all these parties issue reports detailing items that need to be repaired, replaced and serviced prior to the start of the new season in order for the club to receive a General Safety Certificate for the stadium to ensure that the venue is safe for the admission of spectators.

In addition to ensure that the physical factors of the stadium are safe, the safety officer has to begin planning for the new season, and an important factor in that planning is the recruitment and training of new stewards.

Gone are the days when a supporter of a local team would turn up on match day and be given a hi-viz jacket or a bib and sent out into the stadium to act as a steward.

Things have moved on and the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (The Green Guide) requires football stewards to be trained and qualified and in possession of an NVQ level 2 in crowd safety management (or equivalent) and it is the safety officers role to find the trainers and ensure that the stewards work towards and achieve this qualification.

So advertisements are placed, recruitment days are held, each individual applicant is interviewed, and the successful applicants are then enrolled for the NVQ training with the training provider.

Training weekends are organised, the candidates all attend the classroom training and this is followed by on-line assessments then ‘on the job’ assessments whilst shadowing a qualified steward for the first few matches.

Increasingly over the last few seasons with the more ‘professional’ steward working for the clubs, the police are taking a practical risk assessed approach to matches and where clubs can demonstrate robust stewarding plans at their stadiums more and more matches are ‘police free’.

This can only be achieved if the safety officer has the right policies, procedures and partnerships in place with properly recorded risk assessments to demonstrate to the local police and the local Safety Advisory Group that matches can be managed without police being involved on the stadium footprint.
In June the fixtures are released and the safety officer meets with the local police to discuss police match categories and the safety officer will have done his research into the historical and current match day behaviour of each visiting clubs supporters, and will have prepared a risk assessment for each of the upcoming matches.

This information is gathered from the Football Safety Officers Association (FSOA) website, where after each match safety officers post match reports detailing the numbers of travelling supporters and any incidents leading to ejections or arrests.

The police Football Intelligence Officers (FIO’s) will have their own reports and intelligence and the club and police can then agree the police category for each match and whether matches can be ‘police free’.

An increasing trend over the last couple of seasons has been for some supporters to set off pyrotechnics – smoke bombs and flares. Clubs have been required to demonstrate how these devices can be managed and dealt with on match days and the FSOA has introduced commercial partners to help ensure that the club safety officer has policies, procedures and risk assessments, and appropriately trained stewards in place to manage this latest trend.

So the club safety officer works throughout the summer months to prepare the stadium and the stewarding team for the new season and with the right planning and preparation everyone can enjoy another season in a safe environment at their football club.

The author:

John Rutherford is the Safety Officer and Stadium Operations Manager at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club where he has held the role since 2007. Prior to joining Sheffield Wednesday John had been safety officer at Hull City and Mansfield Town. John is the North East Region Chair of the FSOA and is a member of the FSOA Management Board.

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