Following Saturday's Sky Bet League Two fixture with Coventry City, Cheltenham Town Director and Club Secretary Paul Godfrey addresses some of the question raised about the day.
Q. Why were there so many Coventry fans in home areas?
A. The truth is that unless we make a fixture completely all-ticket and restrict sales very tightly then there is little that can be done to prevent this from occurring. Tickets were removed from online sale as soon as Coventry sold out of their allocation but Coventry is close enough that people could just drive down and buy at the ticket office. We are also certain that many Coventry supporters used Cheltenham addresses or people in Cheltenham to get tickets for them and as far as the terraces are concerned, admission was at the turnstiles on the day. If people arrive without wearing Coventry colours there is no way of marking them out as visiting supporters. We are conscious that Cheltenham Town fans are not accustomed to all-ticket games and many supporters still like to pay at the turnstiles in the traditional way. We respect this but it does mean that if we were to make a game all-ticket and put in extra measures to restrict sales then it would also inconvenience our own fanbase.
Q. We felt threatened by the visiting supporters behind us. Why were the not thrown out?
A. This is the thing that causes us the most sadness. We do not want our supporters to feel uncomfortable or threatened in their own ground. However, it is also worth pointing out that the overwhelming majority of visiting supporters were good natured and meant no harm at all. They were boisterous in celebrating the goals but there was no reason for them to try and cause confrontations or disorder. A number of Coventry fans were ejected from the ground because being in the wrong part of the ground is in breach of Football League ground regulations so it can be justified. This also divides opinion. I was present when some Coventry fans were escorted out of the ground shortly before half-time. Some of our fans were complaining it should have been done earlier but other Cheltenham fans were complaining that they had done no harm and should be allowed to stay. It's a situation where you are simply never going to please everyone.
Segregation has existed in football since the early 1970s, it is the right thing to do and many people have no desire to see football crowds like rugby ones where everyone sits together. Football is tribal. Part of its appeal is the heightened nature of 'us against them' but it doesn't mean that every away fan getting into the home areas is automatically going to be a problem. The Safety Team monitor all areas of the ground and they also act on information from home supporters reporting bad behaviour if it occurs. The Safety Team were also being monitored by senior representatives from both the County Council and Sports Grounds Safety Authority on Saturday so had to manage the day in accordance with established procedures. The feedback from those authorities was generally positive given the challenging nature of the day. However, we always undertake a thorough review of every big game and will be seeing if there is anything we can do to improve things in future.
Q. The Board don't know what goes on inside the ground. They're too busy enjoying the free prawn sandwiches?
A. From my perspective, Saturday home matches are a working day and I watch every home game with the supporters. I watched the first half from the Speedy Skips end and the second half from next to the Paddock (medical staff area). I was also in regular contact with the Safety Team so I know exactly what goes on. I went home feeling very down about the result and the amount of unhappy Cheltenham supporters. It was an awful day.
Q. The Board are only interested in making money so they sold tickets to Coventry fans?
A. Spectator safety is our number one priority and it's a shame that people think we are only interested in making money because Saturday's game cost the club a lot in extra stewarding and policing costs. These additional security costs mean that we don't make a lot more from a game like this one than we do from an ordinary fixture.
Q. Why was nothing done about the Coventry fans that went onto the pitch?
A. Going onto the pitch is a criminal offence and anyone doing so is liable to be ejected from the ground and handed over to the police. Normally this will not happen while the person concerned is on the pitch - you have to get the game re-started rather than trying to apprehend someone in full view as it might antagonise other supporters. Normally those concerned will be captured on CCTV and the Safety Team will wait for the appropriate moment to take them out when they have gone back into the stand. This happened with some of the Coventry pitch invaders on Saturday. There are, however, some occasions when it is necessary to maintain a pragmatic policy of containment rather than trying to apprehend every single person. Supporters are also not supposed to stand in seating areas during games but there was no chance of enforcing this on Saturday, for example.
Q. Can I feel safe bringing my children back to the LCI Rail Stadium next season?
We want the ground to be a welcoming place for all supporters regardless of age, ability or disability, gender, race and every other characteristic. Football is for everyone and the vast majority of games are positive occasions when a community comes together to support its team. Sometimes there are games when the boisterous big city away fans take over the ground (we had the same with Leeds, Bristol City etc.) but we work hard to deal with it as best we can and to try and keep everyone safe. We don't want anyone to feel they can't come to the ground and children in particular are more than welcome in Block C of the Main Stand, which is the dedicated family area.
Please don't think this Q and A is the 'final word' from the club on the subject. We are not trying to 'tell you how it is' so if anyone has any further questions or constructive observations on the matchday experience at the LCI Rail Stadium then please get in touch by emailing email@example.com
Thank you for your continued support.