Sunderland will allocate the entire North Stand of the Stadium of Light to Newcastle supporters for the FA Cup clash next month. This includes the allocation of lower bowl seats.
So the worst kept secret is out.
As far as we’re aware, this was done without any meaningful fan consultation, and that feels somewhat of a pisstake by a club who continue to show signs of taking their fans for granted.
Naturally, and we’ve heard literally two social media opinions to the contrary, fans are strongly opposed to this decision.
It feels like an unnecessary, unsafe and unprecedented move which will adversely impact Sunderland supporters.
We would go all formal and ask them to reconsider but what would be the point?
The decision, made with the approval of the Safety Advisory Group (SAG), to allocate 6,000 tickets to away fans in the North Stand, tears up the playbook that has been in place for previous derby matches at both the Stadium of Light and St James’ Park. (15%, we know, onto that later).
It is unquestionable that disorder minimisation in such a highly-charged game is significantly aided by a realistic cap on away fans. I mean, it’s just a fact isn’t it? From a safety point of view, this clearly allows police to effectively deliver a transport plan for travelling supporters to access and exit the stadium safely.
Back to the lack of fan consultation, and there’s some brutal irony in that, through the medium of official and minuted dialogue with supporter groups, the club have recently ruled out the possibility of placing away fans in the lower bowl for a variety of reasons. We were told that moving them would not minimise supporter risk and they added, by doing so, there would be too many ‘complexities’ to justify it. This brought confirmation that the North Stand Upper is unequivocally the allocated away end.
So if that area of the ground is not deemed to be safe enough to hold a larger number of supporters, then surely the recommendation should be that a smaller and more manageable number is allocated? The club also made it clear displacing a significant number of home fans is not a viable option; the idea this could be excepted to accommodate our local rivals is unfathomable.
We suspected the club would hide behind the fact FA Cup rules allow for an away allocation of up to 15%, and that any decision has been made on the recommendation of the local Safety Advisory Group (SAG).
But if Middlesbrough were refused a larger allocation in the same competition, then why should this be different? You also don’t have to research far to see many examples of other clubs refusing to give bigger allocations because drastically changing the location of the away fans is not a reasonable request. Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea were just three examples found by a quick search.
During previous away fan arrangements, when away fans were housed in the South Stand, there was segregation at concourse level to keep both sets of supporters apart. This doesn’t currently exist in the North Stand. If large amounts of empty seats are having to provide segregation, lowering the opportunity for home fans to attend, that does not seem to us to be a reasonable adjustment.
It should also be challenged that the SAG could conclude that 6,000 supporters is a safe number when the most recent visit by Newcastle was capped at 2,700, despite their request for a higher number on that occasion.
An unprecedented amount of Newcastle fans in the vicinity of the stadium would create huge challenges for home supporters to access their own ground and place huge strain on police and stewards.
It just sounds even more ridiculous every time you think about it.
We’ve been contacted during the midst of these rumours, by listeners who’ve admitted they would not feel safe attending this fixture if the allocation was correct. Even in the short time since the announcement was made, fans have been voicing their opposition to the ticket arrangement.
Let’s look at previous examples of these requests. There’ve been ‘relatively’ recent allocations allowing larger numbers for clubs such as Hartlepool and Barrow before away fans were moved. Let’s be real, fans of neither side increased tension with their presence. Ticket demand for these games from home supporters was never going to be high. To suggest these factors aren’t relevant is naïve.
Since the location change, visits by sides such as Carlisle and Leeds that brought larger allocations were managed by extending the existing away end in the upper bowl, with very little disruption in terms of fan displacement and logistical overhaul. Middlesbrough, as previously mentioned, were refused a higher amount altogether.
A surprising amount of flexibility appears to have prevailed at the expense of our own supporters for a fixture of great importance.
Right, so that’s that off our chest we look forward to the new manager appointment… ah for fu