On Monday evening, I sojourned down to Craven Cottage for the international fixture between Brazil and Ghana – the wet weather refused to dampen my spirits as I anticipated an exciting match. However, the scenes that greeted me upon arriving at the Cottage and what subsequently unfolded drenched my enthusiasm, despite the rain having abated.
Having ordered two tickets on Sunday afternoon, I proceeded in the direction of the Jonny Haynes stand to collect them from the booths as directed, turning up around 7pm – allowing myself ample time to pick up the tickets and make my way to my seat. There was already a large mass of people waiting to pick up their tickets, but I joined the throng an hoped the queue would move quickly.
Sadly, I was wrong. There were only two collection booths, one marked A-L and one M-Z, in (too) close proximity to one another. At their peak, which was much later and deep into the crowd problems, there were 4-5 staff in each booth, probably as much as could fit inside given the small size of the booth. Bizarrely, not all the tickets were in the hands of these staff – some letters had been dispatched to handlers in the crowd and this was not made clear in any fashion.
About 7.25 I would hazard a guess that I had perhaps made it halfway up the “queue”. I made it no further forward in queue position, only moved nearer the booth due to the crowd surges that followed. The queue had no structure and was not monitored – security was provided by only 2 stewards. Around 7.45, when it became apparent that the game was kicking off on time, there was a strong surge as people clamoured to obtain their tickets and not miss any of the match.
It was at this point that, fearing for my own safety, I abandoned the queue and battled out towards my waiting friend near the Putney End turnstiles. I would like to add at this point that, being a height of around 6’4, I am not a small gentleman – yet I felt the need to get out of the crowd. I was not the only one around who decided to retreat and I passed several distressed looking people as I struggled to break free.
Looking back, the crowd was now twice the size it had been when I first turned up 45 minutes ago. The queue for tickets had increased and become merged with people who already had tickets in their possession who were unable to enter the Jonny Haynes stand, the turnstiles for which were close to the collection booths. At this point, after consultation with my companion, we decided that having made a near 90 minute journey to Fulham, we wished to see the game and not spend the foreseeable future queuing. So we paid on the turnstiles, again parting with £25 each to enter.
In short, the whole affair was a disaster. The ticket collection system was nowhere near able to cope with the numbers of people who were utilising it. The booths were too small, too close together, too near the turnstiles and for a large amount of time understaffed. There were no barriers providing clear points of entry or exit and there was no security to monitor the crowd. The safety of the fans who attended the game was put in jeopardy.
What is troubling is the refusal of Fulham FC to accept responsibility and it is positively insulting that any statements that have been forthcoming thus far are blaming the people who were caught in the crush outside, despite many reports to the contrary. People ordered tickets and were unable to collect them to the spectacular failings of the service provided. People had tickets and were unable to get in, such was the sprawling queue from those attempting to collect them. Some people missed a large portion, even all, of the match they had paid to attend or, like myself, shelled out again for a new ticket. More importantly, the health and safety of the fans, and the workers who were dispatched tickets in hand out in the crowd, was put at risk. It is unacceptable in this day and age that the security and organisation were so lacking.
I have emailed my concerns to Fulham FC, but have as yet received no reply. Although I find it highly doubtful, I believe at the very least everyone affected by the chaos deserves a full refund and a grovelling apology. If they do respond and offer me complimentary tickets, as they have with others, I will not take them; I don’t fancy putting my life in the hands of Fulham FC again anytime in the near future.