A Bristol City supporter has won a refund for his ticket for the Robins’ defeat at Forest Green Rovers in the EFL Cup - after the Independent Football Ombudsman (IFO) ruled he had been ‘deprived of seeing the match’.
The IFO asked the Gloucestershire club to give Chris McEvoy the £25 for his ticket after also describing its late response to the fan’s complaint over alleged overcrowding as ‘unsatisfactory’.
However, the ombudsman, Professor Derek Fraser, said the capacity in the away section had not been exceeded, and that he was satisfied with how the situation had been handled by safety officers at Forest Green Rovers’ ground.
The home side won the game on August 10 on penalties - but many visiting fans came away unhappy about the number of supporters in the away terrace and the impact it had on their view of the game, with rows up to four or five people deep leading to some supporters standing on nearby bins and other items to see the pitch.
Some of the City faithful claimed that on the day of the fixture that an additional 100-250 additional tickets may have been sold, allegedly compromising supporter security.
Forest Green Rovers denied this and an email forwarded to this journalist showed that the club’s Safety Advisory Group had reviewed the situation in Bristol City’s away section for that game.
The club’s West Stand (housing away supporters) is licensed to hold a total of 1,224 supporters, comprising of 100 seats, 180 terrace spaces in front of those seats and 944 standing spaces on the remainder of the stand.
Forest Green Rovers owner Dale Vince gave a statement to Bristol Live the day after the game saying: “The feedback from Bristol City fans visiting the Fully Charged New Lawn has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We are aware of a handful of tweets from unhappy visitors – but that’s often the way in football. Our away stand was not at full capacity – tickets are sold by the visiting club, and a small number of Bristol City’s allocation were returned to us.”
FGR added, via email correspondence, that all of those tickets for the West Stand were sold by Bristol City in advance with a very small number being returned to us on the day and a number that were also unused.
The club explained that: “On the day of the match, as is common, many supporters chose to stand together in the centre of the main terrace rather than spread out across the available space in the stand; viewing from the stand opposite there was plenty of available space on either side of the centre with supporters unwilling or not wanting to move from the centre.”
However, Bristol City supporter, Mr McEvoy, took his complaints further and contacted the IFO, which eventually decided that Forest Green Rovers had not done anything wrong on the evening in question, but did recommend a payment to the supporter.
On that evening, Mr McEvoy said he had arrived at 7pm with his son. After leaving the stand to buy some food he was unable to rejoin his son.
“When I got to the area where my son was, it was clear that there was no way that I would be able to rejoin him as the stands were completely full to the extent that all of the walkways on the stands were filled with fans. I spoke to the stewards at the gate between the standing area and seated area and they agreed with me that there was no way that I could enter the stands safely due to the amount of people already in the stands,” wrote McEvoy.
A request was made for the cost of the ticket to be repaid.
McEvoy also argued that FGR had taken almost eight weeks to respond to his original complaint despite being repeatedly chased, after Mr Vince had forwarded the original email on to his chief executive.
He said that the FGR complaints process was not fit for purpose.
He also argued, in response to FGR saying fans would not move from the centre of that stand, that he had spoken to three stewards at the match who all agreed that it was not possible for him to enter the stands and that there was nothing they would/could do to allow him to enter the stands.
“It was also said that if there was room at the ends of the stands (and that FGR had not provided any evidence of this) then the stewards did not keep access ways clear, which would have allowed him to enter the empty areas of the stand,” he argued.
“This would imply that FGR were not in control of the standing area and abandoned any attempt to keep passage ways clear to allow safe access to/from the standing area.”
The ruling, made in late 2021, recommended that a sum of £25 would be handed over as a gesture of goodwill, which FGR have now paid.
A spokesperson for Forest Green Rovers added that the club was sorry to have not replied quicker to the complaint.
Independent Football Ombudsman reply in full
Professor Derek Fraser, Ombudsman, replied by email to say.
You complained about being unable to access the away section of the stadium when you travelled to support Bristol City.
You became separated from your son and because of alleged overcrowding could not re-join him after getting refreshments. You allege that the Club was not in full control of the stadium and you requested a refund. You also complained about the long delay in responding to your complaint.
First, let me say that the problem you allude to is quite common in small grounds and for example the IFO has had a similar complaint about away supporters at Burton Albion.
I am satisfied from the full report of the Safety Officer, supported by the Safety Advisory Group inspector assessment, that there was no overcrowding in the away section, that the capacity was not exceeded and that there was no disorder or threat to the safety of either home or away supporters.
Safety Officers have a difficult task and must assess the situation at the time. The Safety Officer did notice some away supporters standing in the gangways and some attempt was made to remove them.
However, the SO decided that in his professional judgement it was not appropriate to make a major steward incursion into the away section because to the risk of provoking disorder.
I am entirely satisfied that this was a wise decision and within the SO’s responsibility.
Nevertheless, you were deprived of seeing the match. I also agree that there was an inordinate delay in responding to your complaint. You wrote to the Club on 12 August but did not receive a substantive reply until 3 October. This is unsatisfactory.
While I find no shortcomings in the crowd management on the night, I do feel that you are entitled to some recompense for your experience both at the ground and in submitting your complaint. I therefore recommend that you be awarded a good will gesture payment of £25.