Problems of crowd congestion which involved some fans being crushed and hundreds missing the start of the game arose outside the away end at White Hart Lane before the League Cup quarter-final between Spurs and Newcastle United on 17th December 2014.
Scores of fans subsequently wrote to both clubs, to supporters’ organisations, to members of parliament and of course to the FSF to voice their distress, concerns and dissatisfaction at how both stewards and the police had responded to the situation.
Problems initially arose after a Newcastle “fan” – who was subsequently arrested – let off a pyrotechnic device on the concourse of the upper tier of the South Stand, activating the smoke alarms and triggering the automatic locking of the away turnstiles at a crucial time as Newcastle fans arrived for the game.
The subsequent management of the queues outside led to fans being crushed against a stadium wall, with a number in distress and in fear of injury.
Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported, but the poor organisational response by stewards and the perceived indifference of the police prompted not only angry scenes on the night, but a flurry of written complaints lodged with Tottenham Hotspur FC, with Newcastle United FC, with Tyneside MPs (such as Gateshead MP Ian Mearns who witnessed events), and with the FSF.
The FSF liaised with our affiliate members the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST), who were able to draw on their experience of previous difficulties at the ground, and sought a meeting with representatives of Tottenham Hotspur FC to address the issues raised.
On Friday, 9th January 2015, the FSF’s chief executive Kevin Miles (a Newcastle supporter who had been at the game and experienced the problems first-hand) and case worker Amanda Jacks met with Spurs’ Safety Officer Sue Tilling and Supporters’ Liaison Officer Jonathan Waite. Representatives of the supporters’ trusts at both Spurs and Newcastle, both members of the FSF, were invited but unable to attend due to work commitments.
The meeting was constructive and positive in tone and content, with both parties sharing the priority of the safety of supporters.
The club had conducted their own investigation into events on the night, and in particular the response to the turnstile closure, and implemented changes to the away fans’ entry procedures.
These included a complete re-design of the queuing system; the use of flags and improved signage to indicate entrances to upper and lower tiers; improved lighting; and enhanced facilities for audible communication. The new system had been in place for the Christmas fixtures against Manchester United and Chelsea, and had worked well.
THST also submitted a number of practical suggestions for improving the way such incidents are dealt with, and these were taken on board by the club.
There was further discussion about the need for a better working relationship between stewards and the police, and also around the tone and content of communication between the club and fans who had written in to complain.
After the meeting, Tottenham Hotspur FC and the FSF released the following statement:
Representatives of the Football Supporters' Federation and Tottenham Hotspur FC have met to discuss lessons learnt from events at the League Cup tie against Newcastle United, and ways of avoiding similar difficulties in future.
Kevin Miles of the Football Supporters' Federation said: "Clearly the safety of supporters is a crucial issue for us, and we had no hesitation in taking up the complaints of fans that we received after the game.
"We appreciated the willingness of Tottenham Hotspur FC to meet with us to discuss the issues, and we have been reassured by the changes they have implemented to their away fans' entry procedures, which we believe will prevent any repetition of similar difficulties in future".
A Tottenham Hotspur spokesman said “We aim to deliver a great experience for all supporters at White Hart Lane and we would like to apologise to those Newcastle United supporters who experienced congestion at the turnstiles prior to our Capital One Cup tie on December 17th. We are always pleased to work with the FSF to resolve any issues and in this case we are pleased that we have been able to do so. The safety of supporters is paramount and we will always seek to optimise our procedures to deliver the best experience for all fans attending matches at White Hart Lane."
Thanks to Kevin Hackert for the image used in this article, reproduced here under CC license.