Norwich City fans told to sit down or risk losing their seat over Carrow Road safety concerns
PUBLISHED: 15:39 06 December 2017 | UPDATED: 20:29 06 December 2017
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Anger has erupted among Norwich City fans at a health and safety edict they view as an order to “sit down and shut up”.
This morning season ticket holders in Block A of the Lower Barclay received letters warning them that “persistent standing” could lose them their seat over “the wider concern of crowd safety”.
The order came from the Club Safety Advisory Group (SAG) - the body of representatives from the county council and emergency services who have the power to revoke the club’s safety certificate.
Fan group Barclay End Norwich has been attempting to improve the atmosphere in Carrow Road and said the SAG was “sanitising” enjoyment of the game.
“There are no health and safety issues with an empty stand” said Barclay End Norwich co-founder Neil Thomson.
“I have sat at the back row of the Barclay for 22 years and we have never had an issue with standing,” he said. “It is being completely and utterly sanitised.”
Canaries Trust chairman Robin Sainty added the SAG were “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut” and said the move would “kill the atmosphere completely”.
The letter from Norwich City told supporters “the wider concern of crowd safety has recently come under further scrutiny from the Club’s Safety Advisory Group”.
It says after the “proliferation of persistent standing and children standing on seats”, the club and safety stewards have been trying to resolve the problem, beginning with Block A.
“Attempts by our safety stewards to get supporters sitting down in this block have met with stiff resistance and in many cases foul and abusive behaviour,” the club said.
In a recent meeting with the safety advisory group, the club was informed the “level of persistent standing at the ground was unacceptable”.
“As such we are now under direct threat of having the capacity in the Lower Barclay reduced significantly unless we can demonstrate a distinct reduction in persistent standing from our next match against Sheffield Wednesday,” the letter to fans reads, encouraging them to “heed the warning”.
Simon Alexander, 36, has been a season ticket holder in Block A for 10 years. With renewals due in a matter of weeks, he predicts a backlash against the “heavy handed” approach.
“I do not want to resent going to the football,” he said. “Frankly there is some disgruntlement.
“They are making an example of [Block A] because we are smaller and easier to control group of people. The club know they can’t make everybody sit down. It is mild hypocrisy to threaten a small group of people for something a large group of people are doing.”
Safe standing is banned for clubs in the top two flights of English football as a result of the Hillsborough disaster and subsequent Taylor Report.
But support for safe standing is growing.
A report released last year by the Adam Smith institution claimed that the introduction of safe standing could half ticket prices for supporters. The report highlighted a 2014 poll by Norwich City supporters group the Barclay End Projekt which found that of 853 respondents 89.21pc were in favour of seeing a safe standing area trialled at Carrow Road.
Even chairman Ed Balls has said: “Personally, I would like to get back to safe standing. If it can be done, I’d do it.”
But Mr Thomson of Barclay End Norwich said the SAG has given the club “a lot of hurdles to get over”.
“My personal view is the SAG should be sending these letters,” he said. “They are making the club seem cold and the letter puts the club in a bad light. It is a position they shouldn’t have had to put themselves in.
“We are sympathetic the club has been put in this position. They are being forced to threaten closing a whole block, which of course they don’t want to do.
“We are in support of the club’s efforts to try to improve the atmosphere but we are being told to sit down and shut up.”
But Mr Sainty, of the Canaries Trust, said a positive could come out of the current friction.
“The club has to enforce the law as it stands but there is a growing push for safe standing areas in stadiums,” he said. “I feel the club have been put in an almost impossible situation with this and their hands have been tied.
“What is very frustrating for everybody in these blocks is we are going to see much tighter policing. I think it might turn out to be a longer term positive because it will push the whole safe standing debate forward.
“The really sad thing is just at the time we want more atmosphere this is just going to kill it completely.”
“Very strong complaints”
A spokesperson for Norwich City FC said the involvement of the SAG “follows very strong complaints from season ticket holders in that area whose views of the game have been partially or wholly obstructed for long periods due to people persistently standing in front of them.”
“The club’s matchday safety team has been working in recent games to try to ask a small number of supporters persistently standing in the affected area to sit down but has met with resistance and in some cases intolerable verbal abuse,” they said.
“Now the SAG has informed the club that if this continues to be an issue in Barclay Lower Block A during our Sky Bet Championship game against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, it will enforce a reduction of capacity in that area, starting with the game against Brentford on Friday, December 22.
“Nobody wants to see our capacity reduced in this way and therefore we would appeal to all supporters in Block A to work with each other and the club on Saturday to avoid this, by sitting down if asked to by a fellow supporter or member of our matchday safety team.”