Craven Cottage Walk-around Meeting
At the May meeting between the Trust and Fulham, we agreed to undertake a ‘walk-around’ at Craven Cottage to discuss in detail a number of ground, safety and stewarding topics in situ.
The walk-around took place on Thursday 7th July (11am – 1pm) and was attended by:
- Darren Preston (Chief Operating Officer)
- Chris Baker (Head of Safety)
- Aimee McKenzie (Operations and Venue Director) sent apologies
Fulham Supporters’ Trust
- Ian Clarke (Vice Chair)
- Dan Crawford (Board Member)
- Sue Couch (Board Member)
- Amelia Armstrong (Board Member, HerGameToo)
The topics were discussed on a stand-by-stand basis with actions agreed in each area for follow-up at future monthly meetings.
Seating area gangways
A number of supporters have difficulty descending and ascending the stepped gangways in the Hammersmith End seating area. There are so-called ‘P-handles’ in some locations, but not in others. We asked for the rationale behind the positioning of the P-handles, whether more could be added and what other measures could be implemented for supporters struggling with the stairs.
The Club explained that in line with safety regulations, P-handles are used in Craven Cottage either where there are changes in step height, or for steeper sections of seating. The Hammersmith End (and Putney End) seating area does not have a uniform gradient but is parabolic, which means that some stairs have a different step height. Where this occurs in the Hammersmith and Putney Ends, P-handles are positioned and the steps are coloured yellow.
(In the new Riverside Stand, there are P-handles all the way up in the upper tier which has a steeper gradient, but by contrast none in the lower tier with its shallower gradient).
[ACTION – FFC] We asked whether more P handles could be used in the Hammersmith End, perhaps for example every other row and the Club agreed to look at the feasibility and cost of this.
The Club did reasonably point out that there are more accessible seating areas with lateral access in blocks H1 and H7 for those supporters with mobility difficulties, who are strongly advised to contact the Club directly to consider alternative seating. The Club also has Disability Liaison Stewards who can assist where possible; again, supporters are encouraged to contact the Club to make their own situation known
[ACTION – FST] The Trust agreed to point supporters with mobility issues to Club ticketing and disability liaison staff to make an appropriate decision on support required.
Whilst reviewing the seating area, we observed that the seating system in use in the Hammersmith End (and Putney End) is from Arena Seating. We discussed compatibility of this system with potential safe standing solutions and the Club explained, as they had done at a previous meeting, that Arena Seating does currently not have a safe standing solution and that there is no immediately compatible solution from another vendor.
In further discussion, the Club commented on a number of complexities of any potential implementation of safe standing in the Hammersmith End, including blocked sight lines if the whole width of the rear of the stand was not used and different supporter movement patterns.
Exit from block H7 directly to Riverside concourse
We asked whether the direct access from block H7 down to the Riverside could be re-introduced at half time as one method of alleviating congestion on the main stairs in this area. The Club told us that these stairs (a so-called ‘vomitory’) had in fact been open and in operation towards the end of the season just completed, but they were under-used, presumably because supporters did not know about them.
[Action – FFC] The Club agreed to add extra signage in this area to encourage the use of these stairs.
Entry and exit stairs
The Trust asked about the entry/exit stairs into the Hammersmith End, which the Club calls vomitories. Movement up and down these stairs can be difficult for some, particularly at half-time and full-time with large numbers of people. The positioning of the stewards in these areas is also sometimes troublesome.
We discussed whether additional handrails, perhaps in the middle of the vomitories, might help, although recognised that the space lost to such a change may be counter-productive. The Club explained that all vomitories have a width of 1.4m with one exception (1.2m) and they would need to check the feasibility of adding an additional rail.
[Action – FFC] The Club agreed to consider whether an additional rail in some or all of the vomitories would assist both from the point of view of providing extra support but also perhaps with half-time flows up and down. The key issue is whether emergency exit flow rates will be adversely impacted.
We also discussed the positioning of the stewards at the top and bottom of the vomitory stairs and that they sometimes get in the way of supporters wishing to grab hold of a railing.
[Action – FFC] The Club can see the challenge and agreed to review the location and standard operating procedures for stewards in these areas.
Late arriving spectators
Supporters in block H7 have commented that large groups of spectators often arrive after kick-off towards the front of the stand, blocking views while they find their seats. Discussions with the ticketing team have identified these as guests in The Club House gin bar.
[Action FFC] – The Club agreed to make pre-match announcements in the gin bar to encourage spectators to take up their seats before kick-off.
One of the most frequent discussion areas amongst supporters at the Hammersmith End is the congestion, particularly at half-time, on the upper concourse which houses the majority of bars and concession stands. This makes it practically impossible for many, particularly families and children, to reach the toilets on the lower concourse which is less congested.
We suggested a number of options in this area, ranging from a major overhaul of the space to incremental changes including
- completely demolishing the upper concourse (so-called ‘mound’) to provide a larger single level space
- construction of a mezzanine level
- swapping the position of the toilets and bars to encourage movement away from the stairs at half-time and allow easier toilet access
- provision of additional stairs connecting the upper and the lower concourses
- use of ambulant sellers and other kiosks on the lower concourse and at the sides to encourage supporters away from the stairs.
The Club told us that they were fully aware of the challenges on this concourse and had reviewed a number of the bigger options above including the wholesale relocation of concessions and toilets. However, at the present time there are no workable plans in the short to medium term. The Club did explain that, after investigation, demolition of the upper level is definitely not possible without undermining the structural integrity of the stand.
We reiterated that doing nothing was not an option here with fans very concerned about the congestion, and the Club agreed to trial some changes whilst recognising that space will always be at a premium
[Action – FFC] The Club agreed to trial the positioning on the lower concourse of some of the concessions to try to draw people off of the upper concourse and away from the stairs. There will also be concessions and standing-room by the river once the space has been vacated by the builders.
[Action – FFC] It is not considered possible to add extra stairs down from the upper to lower concourse, but the Club agreed to trial making the existing central staircase one-way (down only) at half time. This will be kept under review to ensure no unintended consequences.
[Action – FFC] The Club will collect density and flow data via CCTV to keep the situation under review.
We raised the number and quality of toilets at the Hammersmith End, particularly from a female perspective. The concern raised by many supporters is that there is an under-provision of female toilets, that they are of low quality and that signage is poor and/or confusing.
The Club explained that they also receive complaints about the under-provision of male toilets, particularly ‘pans’, and are limited in what can be provided in the space. The former betting kiosk has been replaced with toilets, and additional facilities have been built as a result of the work to create the new Riverside turnstiles.
A discussion took place about the possibility of demolition and re-build of the toilets (or relocation to the upper concourse – see Concourse above) but the Club said they had no plans for this. They would, however, review the numbers and entry/exit signage and management.
[Action – FFC] The Club agreed to review the provision of toilets to see if any further changes to the ratios are possible.
[Action – FFC] Signage for the toilets will be reviewed and, where possible, clarified. This will include better identification of entry and exit points.
[Action – FFC] Stewards will be briefed on queue management and will be asked to challenge incorrect use of exits where possible, noting their primary duty to spectator safety.
Johnny Haynes Stand
Screens for VAR
Supporters in the Johnny Haynes Stand are concerned that, in the Premier League, they will not be able to see the screens at the Putney and Hammersmith Ends of the ground during VAR interventions. We asked whether additional screens can be made available, noting the listed building status of the stand.
The Club said that feasibility and costing for this was underway, but that the listed building consent meant that this was not a simple task. Screens are unlikely to be available for the start of the season.
[Action – FFC] Seek approval for additional screens.
We asked how plans for a Sensory Room in the Johnny Haynes Stand were progressing and were told by the Club that they expect it to be ready for the start of the new season.
Some supporters at the Putney End are concerned about the lack of segregation at concourse level between home and away supporters and have asked for clarification of plans for the upcoming season.
The Club explained that there will be no significant changes for 2022/23. Segregation in the stand will continue to be provided by netting and stewards whilst supporters will be free to mix on the concourse, albeit that they will tend to stay at their respective ends of the stand, each of which provides full facilities. Last season there was only one significant incident on the concourse (at the Luton game) which was dealt with by stewards and police. This did not involve Fulham supporters.
The Club further explained that suggestions of breaches of the segregation line in the Putney End were unfounded and that although there was some missile throwing early in the season, this was limited and dissipated towards the end of the season. The area is kept under close review, and many Club staff have seats in the Putney End and so are able to report any issues.
Turnstiles for Riverside Stand
We asked about the possibility of moving away fans to blocks P1-P2 (using the existing Stevenage Road turnstiles) whilst giving Fulham fans access via the new Riverside turnstiles, which might perhaps allow for a segregated concourse. The Club said that this would not be possible because the new turnstiles at the Putney end of the ground will not be in use this season, and are anyway on a different level to the Putney End stand.
Gate 50 access
The Trust has received feedback that the gate 50 accessible entrance can become congested and difficult to navigate for supporters with limited mobility, which is the reverse of its intended function. We asked the Club for their observations.
The Club said that three stewards were deployed in this relatively small area, but that they would review. In the meantime, there will also be an accessible entrance at the new Riverside turnstiles at the Hammersmith End of the ground next season.
[Action – FFC] The Club agreed to review gate 50 staffing.
Audibility of public address system
Fans in all parts of the ground have commented that the public address system is often inaudible, particularly, but not exclusively, for half-time interviews. This is a regular topic raised by supporters with the Trust. We observed that, on occasion, volume has been increased, sometimes to unbearable levels, but this does not make the announcements more audible. Inexperience of half-time interviewees in using microphones may contribute to the issue, but it doesn’t feel like it is the whole problem.
The Club representative responsible for this area of Craven Cottage was not available on the day, but they agreed to follow-up. Reviews of the PA system have been carried out in the past, but the Club agreed that further review may be sensible.
[Action FFC] The Club agreed to follow-up on any actions required to improve audibility.
The Club staff were open in sharing a lot of information about ground operations and the specific challenges of Craven Cottage and were keen to engage fully to help improve spectator experience where possible. We will follow-up on the items discussed at future monthly meetings between the Trust and the Club.