EFL safety chief rejects criticism over Hillsborough response

A top football security chief insisted the game’s authorities were “all over” an investigation into recent reports of overcrowding at Hillsborough and rejected the idea there had been a “long and leisurely” response.

Newcastle fans complained of overcrowding in the Leppings Lane End of the ground during their FA Cup third-round tie against Sheffield Wednesday on January 7.

Ninety-seven Liverpool fans ultimately lost their lives following a crush in the same stand during a 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. A coroner ruled in 2016 that those supporters were unlawfully killed as a result of police errors and a delayed emergency response.

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Damian Green, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee which is holding an inquiry into fan safety at sporting events, said the reports of overcrowding earlier this month had “sent a shiver down his spine” and  asked the English Football League’s head of security and safety operations Bob Eastwood what had been discovered so far.

“What I’d like to impress upon you is that the football authorities are literally all over this, because we too want to get to the bottom of it,” Eastwood said.

“This matter is still being investigated by the Sheffield City Council Safety Advisory Group and also the FA.

“I’ve been supporting the club and I’m also in contact with a number of fans who have made complaints. At this moment in time I think it’s a little premature to agree with many of the media reports and social media reports that there was in fact overcrowding.

“But nevertheless, the clubs have done a very quick debrief of their operation and have already instigated a number of measures in order to reduce some of the issues that caused some concerns with some fans, which didn’t amount to overcrowding.”

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Eastwood said there had possibly been issues with fans moving around the lower tier of the stand.

“I’m not sure to what extent there was any overcrowding, but when I see the fans at the end of the season I’m sure I’ll be better informed,” he said.

Green said it felt like an urgent matter to him, adding: “I think a long, leisurely review of what might have gone wrong is not what’s needed. It needs some urgent thing, particularly if there are lessons learned about stewarding or the way you check tickets.

“I suspect we will come onto (the chaos at the Euro 2020 final at) Wembley later but all the things that happened there, it will be genuinely terrifying if we thought that’s going to become more common.”

Eastwood replied: “I’m a bit disappointed that I’ve given the impression that we are taking a long, leisurely review of this, because we’re actually doing the opposite.

“The Safety Advisory Group at Sheffield City Council have got full confidence in the club’s safety operation because if they hadn’t, if there were any concerns that the safety of people was compromised, especially at Sheffield Wednesday in view of the history, then the city council would issue a prohibition notice, and they haven’t.

“The deputy chair of the Safety Advisory Group was at that fixture and there are no concerns currently that there is any way that safety was compromised.

“But nevertheless, the fans have got legitimate complaints and it’s that that we are taking very seriously.”