Safety management at Standard de Liège by Christian Hannon

By May 20, 2014
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The ESSMA staff was invited to Standard de Lièges Stade Maurice Dufrasne. We walked through the security departments together with Security Responsible Mr. Christian Hannon and he commented in detail on the safety management at Standard.

How many seats do you block for the away fans?

The section reserved for the visitors consists of three stands with a total capacity of 2,000 seats. But due to the limited sold tickets for away fans, only the two upper stands are in use. It’s true that the police only allows a maximum sale of 1,300 tickets to the away team. These measurements are a consequence of the limited bus places behind the away stands. In times of risky games, the police requires the “combi-system”: this means that visitor fans have to access the stadium by bus and with their ticket bought in pre-sale. Thanks to these measurements the away fan buses can park in a reserved zone specially for them.
 

Does the number of stewards on duty depend of the game?

No. When a stand opens, there are a specific number of stewards required and as the whole stadium is accessible, all the stewards have to be present every game.

Every game day we employ between 150 and 160 stewards and, approximately, 200 ticketing stewards in charge of parking and ticketing control. In the stadium the latter only has an assistant role for the former with limited tasks. This because they did not followed the ‘Steward’ training.

For several reasons, it becomes more difficult finding stewards and certainly to keep them at the club on the long term. A couple of years ago, we faced
hooliganism outside the stadium, which didn’t involve our stewards inside. Present-day they are facing a lot of society problems like the lack of respect, public spirit, education, etc. The fans come to the stadium to let off steam and this sometimes brings unacceptable behaviour. Our fans are known for their passion and the atmosphere they create, which is great, but sometimes things happen that are unwelcome for us at the stadium.

Even when Standard de Liège plays an away game we have our own stewards supervising our fans under the responsibility of the home team security. The stewards are volunteers and mostly motivated to do the job thanks to their relation with the club. The fans know this and this creates a better relationship between them and the stewards; this would not be the case when the stewards of the home team had to supervise them. Even though, in compliance with the evolution of society, the system started to reach its boundaries, I am of the opinion that the Belgian stewarding approach is a good one. The stewards’ main tasks are welcoming and prevention. In no case they function as “stadium bouncers”. The fans better perceive this policy than the one we are sometimes faced with in foreign countries, where they use security companies with bouncers.
 

You mentioned Standard has a movable seating grandstand in use. Since when is it operational?

Since the preparation of the organisation of Euro 2000 in the Maurice Dufrasne Stadium, which was exclusively equipped with seating with a backrest of minimum 15 cm, like the then Belgian law imposed. In 2006 this requirement has been withdrawn by the Belgian law, which obliged us to follow the UEFA-regulations, imposing a backrest of at least 30 cm. This is why, in 2012, the club decided to install seats with the required backrest in the whole stadium. Like in many stadiums and despite the presence of seats, parts of the crowd follow the game while standing. It’s quite normal that this consists certain risks and we don’t believe it’s useful to have seats with backrest available for these people. These seats would only increase the danger in case of crowd movements, for example when the team scores a goal.

Thanks to several trips of our team for the European competitions we noticed that some international clubs (German, French, Austrian…) use movable seating: these are seats that could offer us an interesting solution. The base of the seats can be locked in a vertical position and gives us the possibility to convert from regular seats to standing seats with a clear distinction for every row to limit the crowd movements. We considered this type of grandstand to be a good alternative so we decided to install them in some grandstands. Currently this is the second season we’re using the movable seating.
 

Are you happy with this movable seating solution?

After two seasons we could establish some pros and cons. During the first home games some fans were complaining they couldn’t sit down anymore (while they were standing the whole game when they could sit). In the meanwhile they’re used to it.

The movability in the grandstand is limited to horizontal movements in the rows created by the movable seating. Fortunately this reduces the danger created by crowd movements but you constantly have to keep the stairways free to guarantee the flooding of fans. This sometimes causes a problem in our stadium while we have some difficulties to free the stairs in the zone of the ultras.

In regular seating configuration the people are standing up the whole time and some of them are even standing on the seats. Even though the normal use of a seat is to sit on it, you have to be realistic: a football-attending crowd is not a musical-attending crowd.
We deeply regret the steadiness of the seats that don’t fit the necessary requirements for a football stadium and the crowd’s behaviour. We’ve already seen more robust and suitable movable seating.

We generally think it’s a good solution for the parts of the stadium where the fans like to stand up during the game but the quality of the seats is vital. On the other hand we have to keep in mind the limitations of the systems on movability level, because you have to be sure the escalators are free at every given moment.

How is the cooperation with the police organized?

In the stadium the police commissions plain-clothed policemen because the presence of policemen in duty gives a tantalizing feeling to fans. The contrivance consists of “spotters” who are in touch with the fans and identification & intervention teams that are in support of stewards. Except in case of emergency, the police gives preference to the capturing of fans when leaving the stadium because interventions in grandstands may provoke more incidents.

Depending of the seriousness of the occurrence the arrested persons are taken to the police station or unleashed after the game so they can eventually leave the stadium area with the bus.

The police are in control of their own space, which consists of an interrogation room and two separate cells for both teams’ fans. Due to a change in the Belgian law we aren’t allowed anymore to restrain the fans with chains. Unfortunately during the first game after the new regulation two fans destroyed everything they could: cables, lights… This obliged us to renew the cells completely.

We considered starting a new project with dogs that are able to detect pyrotechnics but this idea was cancelled quite quickly after the first tests. The dogs were indeed able to detect people with pyrotechnics in their possession but after a circulation between the fans the dogs were not able to indicate the right person in an important group.
 

Can you explain us more about the operation of the Standard command post?

We have a command post as proposed by the Belgian law with the following composition:

  • The Security Responsible, which represents the organisation;
  • A police officer responsible for police men in and around the stadium;
  • A doctor, medical coordinator;
  • A Red Cross Representative in contact with his workers;
  • A fire man;
  • A ‘112’ operator, in contact with hospitals and eventually enrichments;

The main goal of this room is to unite the responsible included in the management of different safety and security areas in order to react as quickly as possible in case of occurrences. Here below you can see the commando post above the giant screen.

What camera system is used in Maurice Dufrasne Stadium?

The stadium is equipped with twenty American Dynamics cameras installed and persevered by the company TYCO. These PTZ cameras (Pan-tilt-zoom) respond to the Belgian legislation but their inconvenience is they only record the images that are actually caught on tape. So when you are zooming on a specific zone, we do not have the possibility to see on tape what happened anywhere else.

This is one of the main reasons why we are looking to a new CCTV camera system (Closed-circuit television), a “Megapixel” one, which will allow us to supervise a whole grandstand. This system allows us, theoretically, to identify the quasi-total amount of reprehensible spectators present. In our opinion this new system will perform an important prevention role and improve the fans’ behaviour by decreasing the feeling of impunity, which is generated by the important probability not being identified.

The fans causing fines to the club due to their behaviour, could eventually recover the new system’s cost (partially).
 

What did you do to meet the expectations of the fans?

The stadium has been renovated to be able to host games in the Euro2000 tournament. The UEFA requested a 30,000 all-seater stadium and therefore the two grandstands behind the goals were reconstructed on three levels and an extra tier was added and brought together with one existing lateral grandstand. The new structure is not entirely closed because of the open corners, which is a big advantage for pitch aeration.

Nowadays our stadium answers to the safety requirements. On the other hand it’s not possible anymore to progress comfort without changing our infrastructure’s or build new grandstands.

The tiers are quite narrow, which makes it difficult to move when seats are occupied. This also had consequences when we tried to re-integrate the consumption of food and drinks while sitting (after the prohibition in the 90s due to big safety problems in Belgian stadiums): a lot of fans were complaining, which obliged us to prohibit it again after a couple of games. The seated fans were complaining that they had been standing ¾ of the game so people could go to the bar and come back with food and drinks.

Now, five years later we will have a new attempt with another experience. To minimalize inconveniences and to avoid people traveling between their seats and the bar the whole game, the decision has been made to limit this authorisation in times there is no football being played. Once the game started the bar will keep doors open but we will not allow sitting again with food and drinks. To avoid thirsty fans we introduced the half litres beer glasses.

We are convinced this will be an added value on congeniality level for our grandstands but therefore some elementary rules of society have to be applied.
 

What can you tell us about the security?

In 1996 the first group of ‘Ultras’ was born in thegrandstands with the heaviest supporters. The main issue with this kind of supporter groups we have is the use of pyrotechnics. The Belgian law allows us to persecute identified users with the well-known administrative procedure (fees and stadium prohibitions).

On the other hand when pyrotechnics are used by a specific group we forbid them to be present at a couple of away games. It’s much more difficult to take measurements for home games as not every fan in its section belongs to his group and we can not punish 2,000 fans for acts caused by a group of 200 ‘ultras’.

Like in every area, it’s sometimes difficult to convince the hierarchy about the importance of security investments. Indeed, from time to time this area needs important outgoings without a direct return on investment. On the other hand it can save you loads of money by avoiding incidents.

The challenge of security management at Sclessin consists of guaranteeing physical integrity of all persons present while preserving the exceptional and warm atmosphere, which is unique in our stadium.

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