Sunday, April 06, 2008

Lessons Not Learned

I'm afraid that it's time for me to return to one of my pet rants, and that is that it is abundantly clear that in many places the lessons of the Hillsborough disaster have simply not been learned.

Hillsborough was caused by far more than just terraces and permiter fences. It was the whole design of the stadium and negligence of the worst kind in how crowds were policed and stewarded.

Football clubs have had 19 years now to put their house in order in this respect, to ensure that crowds can come and watch football in safety and not feel at risk of being involved in an accident that could send them home in an ambulance or worse, a body bag. This may sound over dramatic but lets not forget that 97 people died at Hillsborough and 52 at Valley Parade. Those are are shocking numbers.

And so that is why I was utterly disgusted when I went to Loftus Road yesterday to see QPR v Preston North End and found myself in what I can only describe as a death trap, the upper tier of the "school end". I was there as a strict neutral although in with the North End fans (friend of mine is a season ticket holder there).

So what was wrong exactly?

Lets start with getting in, to acces the turnstiles you are invited to que down a very narrow alley way with no exit other than from the way in to it at the back or the turnstiles at the other end. Any delays and that alley way is going to get seriously packed out, and by the way there were no stewards or police keeping an eye on how many people were moving down it that I could see (there may have been CCTV watching this, but I couldn't see any cameras). Now the capacity of the upper tier is 1200 and judging by the numbers in there it must have been 90% full, lets say 1000+ people trying to get in (regardless of the ticket collection fiasco, but that's another story), and how many turnstiles did the club decide to open? Er..... 2 out of the 6 they had there. That's right 500 people per turnstile. To get a license to run a stadium you are meant to have an absolute max of 400 people per turnstile.

On finally getting through the turnstiles you have to go up an extremely steep and narrow stair case which the stewards were allowing people to hang around on looking for their friends. Now yes these fans should nothavebeen so stupid but the stewards should havebene shifting them and quickly, because this was bloody dangerous.

Now the turnstiles and the stewarding of the stairs are operational issues and can be easily fixed, (although the alley way is a disgrace) but now let us turn to the upper tier itself, the designof which is sickening.

On getting to the upper tie you find yourself on a concourse that is poorly lit, extremely narrow and horribly crowded. Just how cramped is it? The toilets are tucked underneath the seating and there were areas of those toilets that I could not stand up straight in. The way the bars stick out means that there is horrible crushing when people are trying to get a drink or food, and the stewards were doing naff all about if. The exit was in a different place to the entrance, which is potentially disasetrous in the event of needing to evacuate quickly (ie very confusing).

The seated areas themselves are steep, not the steepest I've encountered, but the steepest I've encountered with out any kind of rail to hold when going up and down. The seats are tiny and people are packed in like sardines. I would hate to have to get out of there in a hurry.

The experience of attending a game here can't be put into words, you would have to go yourself, although I would by no means recomend it.

People have died and it seems that in places only lip service is being paid to the lessons that came from it.

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