Burnley tempting disaster after what I saw on Saturday in Newcastle United away end
Earlier this year, we marked 30 years since the Hillsborough disaster.
A day when 96 football fans went to support their team, their heads and hearts filled with a dream of seeing their club win an FA Cup semi-final and secure their passage to Wembley.
Instead of enjoying what should have been a brilliant day out, 96 fans were crushed and killed with another 766 injured. The recriminations about what occurred continue to this day, with families of the victims still locked in a campaign for justice for their lost loved ones.
I was reminded of this during our game with Burnley on Saturday.
For the last few seasons we have always played Burnley during the week. At these sorts of games fans arrive at different times, depending on when they’ve been able to negotiate an early exit from work in order to make the game on time. I’ve never had a problem getting into the ground, finding my seat, or getting to the toilet if I’ve needed to.
On Saturday, like a lot of other Newcastle fans I arrived at the ground at about 2.45pm fully anticipating that I had left ample time to get into the ground and find my seat before kick off.
It took a while to get in, but it often does, as fans are filtered through a search process and then through the narrow turnstiles.
What greeted us as we walked in on Saturday, was a sea of black and white clad, singing Geordies enjoying their afternoon out in support of their team.
But the problem was there was barely space to move. I battled my way through the thronging crowd to the first staircase, where we came to a complete and utter standstill. Hundreds of supporters slowly making their way up the stairs to try and get into the ground before the start of the game.
We were lucky. I managed to get up the stairs and took a right on the concourse and my seat was there immediately, taking my position just before kick-off.
While I had a decent view of the game, I had an even better view of the carnage that was now unfolding to my left as other fans now attempted to make their way into the ground.
To my left as I tried to keep one eye on the opening exchanges of what would ultimately be a pretty abysmal match, tempers were beginning to flare. The stewarding where we were standing was completely non-existent save for one lady who just persistently shouted ‘single file’ to nobody in particularly.
Frankly, it was pointless because the ground leaves you no option but to move in single file, which was partly the reason that was causing the blockage in the first place.
At this point Newcastle fans were beginning to turn on each other. It would be easy to suggest that it was a case of having too much to drink on the day of the game but from where I was sitting, hackles were rising because people were starting to panic. They were being pushed by fans behind them but they had nowhere to go because the process when you got to the top of the stairs was essentially blocked.
Only then did the police get involved, things started to ease and everybody calmed down considerably.
Put simply, Burnley’s ground, in its current format at least, isn’t fit for Premier League football. On Saturday afternoon they hosted just under 2,500 Newcastle at the game.
There is only one set of toilets for men in that section. That experience in itself was dangerous with fans squeezing in and out of two entrances squashed in by large stone walls that leave no room for manouevre.
There are only two staircases to access the stand and I think many fans were none the wiser about this as the signage for the entrance further down is obscured by a massive sign directing people to the bar. Talk about getting your priorities right.
Things were so bad during that first 25 minutes that I was praying we wouldn’t score. If we had done and there had been a surge from behind and someone had fallen, I genuinely hate to think what would have happened.
I really admire Burnley and the way they have established themselves in the Premier League on a minute budget. They’ve spent a great deal of money upgrading their training facilities but their ground needs looking at. It’s a League One ground masquerading as a Premier League one.
Burnley have predictably released a statement saying ‘the club experienced a number of challenges with Newcastle United fans last weekend due to pockets of disorder and had to limit alcohol sales at half time as a result.’
It’s too easy to blame the fans for something like that and had something serious happened it would have been interesting to hear their response then. Liverpool fans were blamed for years for causing what happened at Hillsborough and yet it was not their fault.
No football fan should have to go to a game in 2019 and worry about their health and safety. On Saturday I genuinely feared that we were a goal away from disaster.
Rather than blame Newcastle supporters, Burnley would have been well advised to look at what they can do to make things better. Otherwise, unfortunately, it is probably only a matter of time before something more serious occurs.
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