Who Was To Blame For The Turnstile Fiasco At St Mary's !
Monday, 23rd Aug 2021 14:56
There is no doubt that there has been a major problem with the new ticketing system at St Mary's , but where does the blame lie and what could have and should have been avoided in the whole sorry affair.
I am not going to make apologies for anything or anyone in this article, what I am going to do is to look at just what happened and where it went wrong and look at it objectively.
The first thing to look at is the system itself, the club felt the need to upgrade it and so I believe it is the first step in bringing in season tickets where you can have them on your phone etc and also use a season ticket to pay for things like food and merchandise in the ground.
This is not something ground breaking, most Premier League clubs are in the process of bringing in this type of system.
So Saints bringing in a new system is not the root cause of the problem, that lies with the provider of the system that they have brought in, likewise the ticket issue, I have no idea whether the tickets were supplied by the company that supplied the system, but clearly the tickets were not delivered on time and they are faulty.
So that is the root cause taken care of and although the club cannot be blamed for the products being faulty and I dare say we have all bought something that hasn't worked from time to time, the truth is that in the last week or so knowing the potential problems they have not prepared back up plans to cover any eventuality.
Sending out the season tickets was late, so I am lead to believe because the tickets were stuck on a delayed container ship, apparently we were not the only Premier League club in the same boat here.
From this viewpoint I can only assume that the tickets were despatched at the earliest opportunity and certainly from around Wednesday last week it seemed that a fair percentage of season ticket holders had received their tickets.
The problem was the club had no way of telling just who had and who hadn't received tickets other than the fans themselves contacting the club and then being issued with a paper ticket.
The issue here was that with tickets turning up as late as Saturday lunchtime if they had started issuing paper tickets on say Thursday then even more chaos would have ensued , as people would have clogged up the system on Thursday and Friday and then received tickets whilst others who hadn't received tickets might not have been able to get duplicates.
Chaos ensued on Saturday morning at St Mary's, this should have sent a warning as to what might happen on Sunday.
The answer is the club was in a no win situation, perhaps the best thing to have done here was on Thursday accept that the season tickets should have all been switched off and paper tickets for printing been despatched, this might not have completely resolved the situation with some fans missing the e mails etc and trying to use their season ticket, but surely the chaos would have been on a far smaller scale than yesterday's fiasco.
In truth i think that doing this would have solved a lot of problems and the club has to take some blame here for placing their faith in the Royal Mail delivering all the tickets by Saturday.
But if there were some things that were out of the clubs hands ahead of the game, then there can be no excuse for the chaos that reigned at the stadium yesterday.
From the number of people in the ground at kick off time it seems that the Northam End and the Itchen Stand had no issues at the turnstiles, I have heard little report of large queues and as I say at kick off both stands were virtually full.
But at the same time inside the ground the Kingsland and Chapel stands were nowhere near capacity and outside the ground there were around 5,000- 6,000 Saints supporters trying to get in with queues snaking around the ground and into the nearby industrial estate and absolutely no stewarding or guidance.
Things could have been a lot worse, in my opinion something major happening was only avoided due to the relative calm and good nature of the people in the queues.
I am not going to point the finger of blame at the stewards themselves here, they stuck manfully to their task, but there appeared to be no leadership or direction to the stewards, they were left to be at the forefront of the situation and if the crowd had turned nasty then there could have been a lot of people hurt.
So what could have been done ?
Well by 1.15pm it was clear there was a problem and that queues were forming and the turnstiles couldn't cope with the build up of fans given the failing of the bar code system.
At this stage why did no one inform the match referee and request a delay to the game in the interests of public safety ? This would seem to be the logical thing to have done at the time, a 15 minute delay would have enabled most to have been in the ground by 2.15pm although people were still getting in past 2.20pm.
Thankfully there was no public disorder and the crowds remained calm, but at 1.30pm no one could have been absolutely sure that this would continue to be the case, it would have only taken a spark and things could have turned nasty, there were stewards on the exit gates in the Kingsland letting people enter via mobile scanners, it is lucky these gates weren't stormed.
So Southampton Football Club can count itself lucky that this morning the headlines in the paper are not giving details of death or serious injury, most of the major football ground tragedies haven't been caused by violent disorder but by a failing to plan for a situation or by failing to deal with it.
From this point at 1.30 perhaps the club should have considered switching the turnstiles to manual check, this might have been the most simple and easiest option,, tickets could still be checked, but not by scanner but by a quick visual check by a steward positioned on the turnstile and then the holder goes straight through without the need to scan.
If implemented at 1.30 this would have cleared the queues by kick off, 99% of the people milling around had a ticket , they could easily have shown it and in.
Why no one thought of this idea I don't know, inside each gangway had two stewards on the staircase, surely they didn't need both, they could easily have deployed these stewards to the gates.
Also the exit gates could have been used with stewards checking tickets to speed up operations.
Sadly the club did nothing other than slowly let those in whose tickets did work, and then slowly let in those who didn't still with a manual scanner though, surely initiative was needed at this point, but although there was some evidence of stewards trying to do this, it was understandably few and far between, I don't blame a steward for doing his job here, only those who sat on there hands with perhaps the biggest crowd issue at St Mary's unfolding.
Some may suggest that we should have just opened the gates and let people in, there is a case for this, as i said 99% of those had tickets and there was spare seats available if even 100 got in without tickets, but I can see why this was not actioned, after all this is what happened at Hillsborough .
So the club has a lot to answer for, it is good that they were quick to accept blame, issue an apology and state they would refund everyone their money, a gesture that will cost them £500,000 at least perhaps as much as £750,000, but that is money we can ill afford to lose in today's financial climate , having simple plans in place even delaying the game would have saved the club a fortune.
The fault that the season tickets were late being sent out was not directly the clubs fault, they could only send them out when they had received them, but there can be no excuse for their lack of organisation on matchday other than let things unfold and hope to God nothing wnet seriously wrong.
Here the Saints supporters at the game demand the utmost praise, they remained calm at a very fraught time, it would have only taken a small incident to spark off something bigger and in truth I can't remember seeing any please outside the Kingsland stand, I can't say they weren't there, but I don't remember seeing one.
So the only winners on Sunday were the supporters of Southampton Football Club, we behaved with great restraint, calmness and in doing this prevented a drama turning into a crisis, some may think this is going over the top a little, but with 5,000 trying to get into a football ground and the game kicking off and knowing that it could take 20 minutes to get in, it had the potential for people to get seriously hurt.
No one goes to a football ground with the expectation of dying or getting seriously hurt, no one in control of a football ground signs in to work with the expectation that someone's lives may be in their hands, sometimes out of the blue it happens.
It could have happened on Sunday !!!
Photo: Action Images
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