Stewards just stare at you and tell you to sit down, right? And why do we have to have our bags searched? Surely Fratton Park wouldn’t be top of Osama Bin Laden’s hit list?
The no smoking thing must be to protect everyone else’s health, yes? And not being allowed to take our beers to our seats is a rule made up just to irritate us thirsty fans, surely?
You may not believe all the above, but how much do you actually know about what happens backstage to ensure we, the fans, can watch our beloved Pompey play?
In the style of chef and football fan Delia ‘where are ya?’ Smith, first take one safety officer. Portsmouth Football Club has three, headed by stadium manager Derek Stone, although only one is needed on site.
But if they were not able to get to the stadium on match day, for whatever reason, no fans would be allowed through the gates. So, to be on the safe side, Pompey have a trio – Derek, Marie Stedman and Mike Turner.
Next, take one safety briefing. I arrived at Fratton Park three hours before kick-off on Saturday, just in time for the briefing.
In that meeting, the stewards, fire wardens, turnstile staff and VIP lounge staff are told of any issues that might affect the smooth running of the match.
Saturday’s ingredients included the planned SOS Pompey demonstration and internet chat from a couple of fans threatening a pitch invasion.
‘That would be bad for the club if it happened,’ says Derek.
‘The fan would get a banning order and we could get a points reduction and a very hefty fine.’
Other ingredients include info about the new ticket kiosks, how many police officers will be at the match and other health and safety items.
After that, the stand supervisors go to their stands to brief the stewards there, then they all sweep the stands for rubbish or any suspicious packages, broken seats etc.
Next, it’s time to head to the control room – between the North Stand and the Milton End – to meet some of the staff in there.
They include senior police officers, a CCTV operative, St John’s Ambulance and South Central Ambulance staff, two of the safety officers, a radio controller and a staff member who logs each and every decision and incident as it happens.
I’m glued to the screen when the CCTV focuses on a couple of Pompey fans having a smoke outside a pub, then switches to look at the traffic around the stadium, and finally to an errant parked car that is blocking an emergency exit at the stadium.
Working with the police, the owner of the car is identified and the car is removed. At this stage add to the mix four officials who meet with Derek and the police on the pitch and run through much of the information at the briefing, as well as the planned minutes’ applause before the game.
Ironically the referee calls Derek back to ask where manager Steve Cotterill will be sent if he needs to dismiss him from the dugout.
Later on, Cotterill did not appear in the dugout after half-time. He would say later that he hadn’t been sent off, but was advised by the ref to take a position in the stands.
At this point your mixture needs to be watched closely for 90 minutes, give or take.
1.30pm – The gates open to allow fans access to their seats
2pm – Derby County arrive/mascots have their pictures taken
2.03pm – SOS Pompey demonstration begins. Control room hears estimate of 70 demonstrators.
2.20pm – Both teams are out on the pitch warming up. Stands start to fill
3pm – Minutes’ applause in memory of Norman Uprichard followed by kick-off
3.09pm – Call comes in that a man is having a fit, but it’s quickly identified as a heart attack
3.17pm – Two ambulances have arrived.
3.32pm – Patient is taken to QA.
3.36pm – Derby score
3.50pm – Half-time. Attendance is put at 12,882 (the control room does not take into account season ticket holders who haven’t shown up for the game, which the official stats do)
During this point, turn your stewards to face the crowd, set them to man the tunnel, and place them at every bar.
The volunteer fire officers check the fire escapes for problems.
4.05pm – Second half
4.13pm – Two home fans who brought tiny babies are found seats out of the wind in the family section
4.41pm – Gates are opened for fans to leave the match early
4.44pm – Fire service truck leaves the ground
4.50pm – Pompey equalise.
4.48pm – Stewards radio through that a fan is abusing a steward. CCTV picks up the incident and we watch as the fan pushes the steward. Fan leaves before he can be ejected, but attempts to hide in another part of the North Stand. CCTV track him and stewards have a word. Man leaves the stadium, followed all the way by the eyes in the control room – all the way to Lidl.
4.55pm – Full-time
Next, reverse the instructions for the first half of the recipe: stewards empty the stadium, sweep it for lost property etc, and have a de-brief.
Next it’s the post-match safety briefing, where the incidents we’ve watched on CCTV are talked about and gripes raised.
It’s revealed that no-one was arrested or ejected.
Derek says: ‘Anything can happen on match day so you have to think on your feet. It’s a big responsibility.
‘A lot of people think the stewards here can be officious, but they’re here to make sure everyone enjoys the event.
‘Our stewards try to be as low-key as possible and we try to make sure everyone’s safety is assured.’
PORTSMOUTH Football Club is only allowed to stage matches if the city council agrees. They are issued with a safety certificate once a year, granting them a licence to carry on.
But to get that licence the club has to jump through a number of hoops. Every quarter they are called to a Safety Advisory Group, which is also attended by the emergency services.
Each give evidence that Pompey have ticked the boxes health and safety-wise and should be allowed to continue hosting matches.
The Football Licensing Authority, funded by the government to oversee stadium safety, also attends every match.
FIRE remains a major risk for stadiums like Fratton Park where some of the stands are made of wood.
The Bradford City fire in 1985, which claimed the lives of 56 fans, is still known as the worst fire disaster in the history of British football – and it was started with a dropped match or a cigarette in a polystyrene cup.
Most Pompey fans know they’re not allowed to smoke in the ground – not even at half-time – but not many will know it’s because of the ever-present risk of fire.
During the past three years the Fratton Park fire detectors have been upgraded to alert the five fire wardens to a possible blaze, without causing mass panic amongst fans.
There are also two officers from Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service who make regular checks on the stadium and recommend improvements that can be made.
They are also on hand during the matches, ready to assist the club’s fire wardens and direct the fire crews when they arrive.
There is also a fire engine from Southsea Fire Station on hand in the club’s emergency car park should the worst happen.
Alan Murray, group manager responsible for fire safety for Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service, explains: ‘Fratton Park is an old stadium with a lot of people packed into a tight area. If there was to be an incident it would be better is we were here to manage it from the inside, to be proactive, rather than reactive. ‘
FAN NEEDS HELP
NINE minutes after kick-off a steward radioed to the control room that a man was having a fit in the upper North Stand.
Paramedics, St John’s Ambulance and the emergency care practitioner raced to the patient, while the stewards tried to help.
It quickly became apparent that the fan, an 84-year-old man from North End, had suffered a heart attack.
Eight minutes after the call was initially made two ambulances raced down Anson Road and into the stadium’s emergency car park behind the Fratton End.
The control room was constantly updated, with staff there being told the patient had to be resuscitated twice before he was able to be moved from the stands and into a waiting ambulance.
By 3.32pm, 23 minutes after the call was made, he was on his way to QA for emergency treatment accompanied by his son.
Mike Turner, one of three safety officers at Fratton Park, says: ‘A lot of credit should go to the paramedics and the stewards for the way they reacted. It just shows how professional they can be.’
South Central Ambulance Service also passed a message to the club praising staff for the way they handled the situation.
The man is now recovering in hospital.