Chaos at The Cottage
This morning I wrote to Fulham Football Club to express my anger and disappointment at the organisation of last night’s friendly international between Ghana and Brazil. The ticketing system and the non-existent crowd control so badly needed outside of the ground shortly before kick-off were nothing short of ludicrous.
I attended the match with a friend and had placed an order online on Saturday. We arrived at the ground on the Johnny Haynes stand side to collect our tickets over an hour prior to kick off. We were directed by a steward to the two tiny white ticket collection booths close to the statue of Johnny Haynes where we found a huge crowd of people pushing and shoving to collect their pre-booked tickets. We queued for half an hour to get to the front and collect our tickets, during which time, no organisation or crowd control took place at all and the crowds continued to grow.
As we reached the front, I showed my proof of purchase email, complete with order reference number and gave my surname and address as requested. However, my tickets were not there. I was directed to a young girl standing alone who was holding a huge pile of tickets with the surname starting with ‘P’. She had no security with her to ensure the tickets went to the correct person or even, in fact, someone who had paid. She rifled through this pile of tickets and could not locate my tickets. She summoned her supervisor who simply directed me to queue at the ticket office.
At this point, as my friend joined the queue I made the first of several complaints on what I had hoped would be an extremely enjoyable evening.
Why exactly, I have asked Fulham, had I been directed to join a queue in which people were standing who had not taken the time, or indeed paid the £1.25 booking fee per ticket, to order online? What exactly was the point of me purchasing tickets in advance to queue with people who simply turned up on the night?
I was told by two of the staff that lots of people were in the same situation and I just had to be patient and queue like everyone else.
Not accepting this I found another, far more accommodating steward who took me to his supervisor, a very courteous and apologetic lady who was controlling the flow of cash-payers at the ticket office door. By this time however, my friend had been queueing for another 20 minutes in the cash queue whilst I ran around like a blue-arsed fly.
I was then finally directed to the ticket enquiries window at which point, after a further 20 minutes of queueing (this is now over an hour of queueing I would like to stress) the young lady in the enquiries printed me off fresh tickets and – I thought – we were good to go.
We then tried to get to the Putney End gates.
With the queueing of people at the ticket collection booths, people trying to get to their turnstiles with only a few minutes to go until kick off and people simply moving in all directions, we were trapped – I do not use that word lightly – trapped in a throng of what appeared to be hundreds, if not thousands of people. People were falling over, a man in a wheelchair was being jostled, a young girl in front of me was separated from her parents and was in tears and I was being pushed from behind, as was pretty much everyone in my immediate vicinity. Where were the police, the stewards; where was the direction, the announcements of directions or information? Where was the crowd control?
We managed to get out of this dangerous throng of people essentially by shoving and forcing our way through. I am absolutely stunned that no-one was seriously hurt during what was a horrible crush. This was by far the worst overcrowding I have seen in nearly twenty years of attending football matches and no-one, not the police, nor the club, were taking any measures to resolve or help the situation.
I shouted to a female mounted police officer who was stationed directly in line with the Haynes statue that there was a crush going on “down there” indicating the direction and said that someone was going to get hurt. I was blanked. Not even any recognition of my comment. Nothing. I said the same to a young steward also and, to his credit, he ran in that direction and I could hear him shouting directions and telling people not to push. On his own.
Why was their no support for this young man? Why were the police more concerned with telling people, and I quote – “Come on, head to the gates, yes it’s busy but maybe you should have got here earlier”?
As we headed into the ground the crowd was swelling further behind us and still, nothing was being done.
As we approached the gates, I discovered to my indignation that tickets were being sold, for cash, at the turnstiles. What kind of organisation is this? We were stood for another 10 minutes behind people buying their tickets, asking where the seats were and paying cash and getting change etc, whilst all we needed to do was scan our barcodes and go through! How many places were there available to sell cash tickets and why were people with pre-booked tickets forced to (yet again) queue with individuals who had not pre-booked online and paid an administration charge? Is this not basic crowd control to separate and move quickly those with tickets, then control the larger cash paying masses? This and the chaos at the ticket collection booths was certainly contributing to the swelling crowds.
Finally, with around five minutes to go until kick off we had got into the ground, we ran to our seats only to find a young lady in one the two seats I had booked. I said to her that I thought she was in my seat, to which she replied “I don’t think so” and produced a ticket identical to my own, for the exact same seat.
I complained to the stewards in the left-hand corner of the Putney End, informing them of the issue and a supervising steward was called, an extremely helpful gentlemen who was hugely embarrassed by the situation. He took my ticket number and promised to report the problem. Another of the stewards said to me that this was not the first instance of this happening tonight and he was also very sorry. Exactly how many other seats had been sold multiple times? I ended up being seated, away from my friend, in a seat with a far more restricted view.
Was this seat sold twice? Was her ticket in fact my ticket that the ticket collection point could not find? I have asked how had this been purchased – by cash from the club? If so why did they feel they could sell this seat to both her and I? If not purchased from the club, was it purchased from a tout and if so how did this ticket end up in the hands of [said] tout?
I have insisted on clarification to the questions I have asked above, as well as asking if this is how Fulham Football Club usually handle normal Premier League matches? If it is not how they would handle a normal match, why was the organisation of Monday night’s game allowed to get so completely out of hand? Finally, I want to know what steps will the club will be taking to ensure that such a debacle is not repeated? If club’s are to be awarded with such lucrative friendlies, surely they have some obligation to ensure that such negligence never again rears its ugly head?
I have requested a response from the club before the end of this working week. If I have not heard from them by this time however, I will be contacting the Football Supporters Federation for advice on where to take my complaint next, be it the FA, the Premier League, or whoever.
There are some positives I would like to highlight however. The Fulham stewards, as a team, were outstanding. They were helpful, courteous, apologetic and without them, Monday night could have gone from being a debacle to something far worse. Another was the fantastic attitude of, and atmosphere created by, the Ghana fans. With such shocking organisation and ridiculously poor planning, with another, more aggressive group of fans, the outcome could have been drastically different in the stands yesterday night. Thankfully for everyone, the Ghanaian fans just wanted to sing and dance.
The stewards were a credit to the club, and the Ghana fans a credit to themselves.
However the organisation of the evening should leave everyone involved deeply ashamed.
If you had a similar experience on Monday night at The Cottage, please add a comment and let us know. This is as much about public safety as anything else and the club should be made to answer for their actions, or lack thereof.
UPDATE: You can see Fulham’s response here – http://bit.ly/qQ9RQ3