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North Stand Problems: Season card holders share concerns on Sunderland safety

Following yet another incident where a missile was launched from the away end into the home end at the Stadium of Light, we spoke to a bunch of season card holders about their safety concerns. Will the club do anything about it?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Do you feel safe where you sit in the north stand?

Nic Wiseman: Not as safe as we once did. The away fans being housed above us has been a constant irritant since Mags Byrne took the ill-fated decision to move them there in November 2011. The area outside the North Stand is more congested with more police and coaches. When clubs bring a sizable number, there’s always the possibility of flashpoints occurring.

This season, flares have been launched by fans of Coventry, Burnley and now Birmingham. As wheelchair supporters occupy the space between the upper and lower sections of the lower North Stand tier, they are most vulnerable and the flare on Saturday narrowly missed a wheelchair user.

Also as the upper tier is so enclosed, if a visiting team brings only 50 fans, it still sounds like thousands as their tiresome chants are magnified.

Gary P: Not as I should, No. How can I? When you realise a smoke bomb, or whatever, has just come from behind & missed you by a few feet you are startled. It’s become too regular a thing for us to feel safe. More worryingly for me is my son sat next to me. The thought of him getting hit by an object is not one I can sit comfortably with.

Lewis: On a personal level yes, but I worry for those who sit centrally behind the goal in the line of aim particularly elderly, young children and disabled.

Anon #1: No. Not at all. I’ve had my season ticket in my current seat for several years now and it no longer feels safe. The flare thrown on Saturday landed just behind me and it could have easily hit me or my Son.

Worse still, it hit (or landed near to) a disabled supporter who could not take evasive action. There’s been several instances of flares being thrown down by away fans now and the club’s additional safety measures have not prevented it at all. Twice in the last two home games shows that the issue has not been prevented or addressed correctly.

Anon #2: No I don’t feel safe, several times this season I have seen people injured in the stand by objects thrown by the away supporters.

I purposely picked row 15 as it’s at the back of the lower section and there is a wall directly behind me. Having seen where the flare landed on Saturday what little protection I thought myself and son had seems insignificant.

The club have ‘addressed’ the problem with objects being thrown from the away end… do you think they’ve done enough?

Nic Wiseman: The club’s statement is wholly inadequate and fails to address the problem. After the Burnley incident, the club made as if to make wholesale changes and it seemed as if they were going to finally take the decision to move the away fans back into the lower tier. To where they were originally housed in the South Stand would seem the most logical, given the holding police cell is at that end of the ground and the area outside the South Stand is more spacious and les congested. So rival fans are less likely to mix.

Then the club announced that they were going to do nothing. They made barely credible noises about training stewards better, stringent searches and bans on coins and vapes. But the same thing has happened again. In my view the away fans should not be above fans in the North Stand. It makes no sense. Home fans occupy the lower tier and the Blackcats bar, behind the away fans.

As a result, us three ITHICS writers have chosen to leave the North Stand next season.

Gary P: I received a nice phone call and emails last August (after the Coventry game) and it was evident the club were seeking a way forward. The statement yesterday shows they’ve run out of ideas. The bottom line is no, they haven’t done enough otherwise Saturday's incident wouldn’t have occurred. However these things are getting through the security checks, it’s still happening and it’s in no way acceptable.

Lewis: Not at all, it’s all good and well introducing searches but as shown these days items are always going to end up in the ground, although many disagree and it isn’t right it’s apart of the game (well the ugly side of it).

Anon #1: No. Whilst confiscating coins and vapes prevents such items being thrown, these are not the usual items thrown down by away fans. Additional searches have not prevented flares from being brought into the stadium and used by away fans. Flares are small enough to be concealed by fans and they can be carried in by young fans, who cannot be searched due to their age (I believe). There is a culture with flares being used by away fans, including ours, but the issue is the location of the away fans in the Stadium of Light.

Anon #2: Clearly not as this keeps happening. Someone has managed to get a flare into the ground, light it and throw it, and nobody prevented it. A man in L29 on Saturday removed his jacket to reveal an Aston Villa shirt and was removed immediately by stewards.

What more could they be doing?

Nic Wiseman: Move the away fans from above the home fans so they can’t launch missiles into the home crowd.

Gary P: They’re left with two choices. Either move the away fans or put up a Perspex screen or some kind of net to safeguard those Sat below. All other solutions appear to have been exhausted. But I’d also say the EFL is weak here. Their start-of-season statement (zero tolerance for antisocial behaviour) has not been backed by action. Coventry, Birmingham, etc should have had sanctions taken against them as those clubs have done naff all to show their own fans that such acts are well beyond what is acceptable.

Lewis: I thought this summer was the perfect opportunity to move away fans down but it wasn’t taken, the police cells are behind the south stand and it is designed for away fans especially as I feel we struggle for home atmosphere I feel as though a fresh move around would’ve been good. Putting up netting would only be a temporary solution in my opinion and would invite some fans to misbehave even more.

Anon #1: Consult with our fans with a view to imposing additional measures. See what our fans want. The club have stated previously that they have done investigations and consulted various parties but the fans do not seem to have had much of a say. Do our fans support netting or Perspex screens being installed or do we want away fans moved to the lower bowl resulting in season ticket holders having to move and if so, where to. If certain options available are untenable, then the club should tell fans why.

Have the events of this season and last made you change your mind on where you sit going forward?

Nic Wiseman: Yes, we’ve moved to the Premier Concourse.

Gary P: Yes - but there are implications for me to do so. I like the people I sit with, and I enjoy being at that end of the ground in terms of watching the game. If I move to west or east stands then the choice of seat is poorer AND they’ll cost me more. I’m more likely to cancel my SC renewal as it stands. It’s a huge commitment from me to have a SC due to pressures at home and the journey I take from Yorkshire. If the club can’t match my commitment then I’m left to wonder if I’d be better reverting to a match-by-match purchase.

Lewis: Not for me, I love the seats I have in the ground but definitely makes me concerned going forward that you can never know what to expect on a match day especially sitting with a child.

Anon #1: I love the position of the seat I sit in and like the regulars around me but something needs to be done prior to the start of next season. I am willing to stay where I am if the club take positive action to prevent such incidents reoccurring. If they don’t, I have no option but to request a seat move as the safety of my son is paramount. I will ultimately have to ensure the safety of myself and my son if the club can’t.

Anon #2: Have renewed into the premier concourse for next season.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

What would you like to say to anyone from the club in a position to do something who might be reading this?

Nic Wiseman: We’ve been underwhelmed by your lack of forethought. This was all so predictable. It seems that you thought it was too much hassle to move the away fans so you’ve cobbled together half-measures to try to appease supporters, which haven’t been in any way adequate. I’d go so far as to say as it's been a dereliction of duty on the club’s part. Shame on them.

Gary P: Tell Steve Davison & Kyril to come and sit with me. I have another son who is profoundly disabled and isn’t able to come to football. To see the lad in the wheelchair on Saturday being surrounded by blue smoke, and his Mam panicking because they’d fractionally avoided being hit by a lit device, made me completely lose any more patience I had on this. That lad has been just a few yards in front of me most of the season and in all weathers. I want the top brass to sit and try and enjoy a match having just witnessed that. I was so pissed off I wanted to go home and didn’t enjoy the rest of the game as I should have. They need to make a stand for the fans before we do it ourselves - inaction isn’t viable. It’s the sort of shit that could end up derailing or distracting from the positive inroads made on the pitch.

Lewis: After someone being hit on Saturday this has to be the last straw - we can’t be seen to just dismiss constant trouble in our own home ground it’s not good enough and not what our support deserves.

Anon #1: Consult and listen to the fans. We are the lifeblood of the club. If something needs doing and subsequently paying for, then do it. You can’t put a price on people’s lives.

Anon #2: Move the away fans to the lower bowl.


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