Friday, October 14, 2005

Stockport Express: Safety fears blow whistle on historic match

12th October 2005
Alex Scapens
Source:Stockport Express

They say the security arrangements planned for the visit of FC United to their Park Road stadium for a 2,000 sell out game on Saturday had been approved by police and North West Counties League (NWCL) bosses four weeks ago.

But at a meeting with these organisations plus Stockport Council this week the club says the decision was overturned and they were ordered to postpone the match after it was decided the ground had insufficient emergency exits.

The club now faces a potential £2,500 bill in ticket refunds, is stuck with refreshments already ordered for the day and says fans from as far away as Scandinavia have cancelled their trip.

The council say they understood the game was originally going to be played elsewhere, while the NWCL maintain the postponement decision was made as quickly as possible, only a day after receiving the specific safety arrangements at Cheadle’s ground, including the emergency exit provisions.

A council spokesman said: We understood the game was originally going to be played elsewhere. The council, police, league and FC United all had safety concerns.

But club chairman Chris Davies said: The whole club is fuming over the decision, if it was going to be made it should have been made four weeks ago, this is a big bureaucratic oversight.

When we informed the police and league of our arrangements they were happy.

We would have been proud to hold this game at Cheadle but it seems people are trying to create problems that aren’t there, an extra emergency exit could easily be added.

The game will now take place at the larger Tameside Stadium, in Ashton, on Monday night. But with tickets sold as far afield as Bristol, London, Wales, Carlisle and even Sweden it is feared many will not be able to attend.

After council officers read about the game, which would have dwarfed Cheadle’s previous record attendance of 1,007, in last week’s Express an environmental health representative visited the ground.

This was followed by last Friday’s meeting where it was decided two emergency exits were not enough for the NWCL Challenge Cup clash.

Alan Farnworth, vice chair of the NWCL, said: I had heard some weeks ago Cheadle were planning to stage the game but the final details did not come through until Thursday and we then acted immediately.

We have a duty of care to other supporters and the ground does not lend itself to safety with 2,000 people there.

It is hoped the larger capacity at Tameside will make up at least some of the money the switch has cost Cheadle.

FC United, the club formed by Manchester United supporters unhappy with Malcolm Glazer’s takeover, have attracted huge crowds for non-league football in their debut season.

So far every opponent has switched their home game to a bigger venue.

Cheadle are used to crowds of 100 in the NWCL but after a proposed switch to Stockport County’s ground fell through last month they were confident their facilities could cope.

A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said: The match between FC United and Cheadle Town is a non-league fixture to which normal footballing legislature and regulations do not apply.

As a result we do not normally have any input into whether the matches should be allowed to go ahead or not.

We did not in this case make any decision about where or when the fixture should be held.