LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 05: Ronaldinho of Brazil in action during the International friendly match between Brazil and Ghana at Craven Cottage on September 5, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
The story that hit the pressers on Monday focused on Brazil's 1-0 victory over Ghana at the Craven Cottage. A wrongly issued red card to Ghana's Daniel Opare stifled what had been a lively friendly and forced the Ghanaians to rely on defensive tactics to keep the score close.
A few days later, another story emerged, one that occurred away from the pitch. Hundreds of fans missed the entertaining start to the game because of serious crowd control and ticket allocation problems. A lack of ushers and police available to control and alleviate pressure only made matters worse. It all lead to anarchic scenes on Stevenage Road, the primary road running alongside the Cottage.
We arrived at the ground on the Johnny Haynes stand side to collect our tickets over an hour prior to kick off. We were directed by a steward to the two tiny white ticket collection booths close to the statue of Johnny Haynes where we found a huge crowd of people pushing and shoving to collect their pre-booked tickets. We queued for half an hour to get to the front and collect our tickets, during which time, no organisation or crowd control took place at all and the crowds continued to grow.
As we reached the front, I showed my proof of purchase email, complete with order reference number and gave my surname and address as requested. However, my tickets were not there. I was directed to a young girl standing alone who was holding a huge pile of tickets with the surname starting with ‘P'. She had no security with her to ensure the tickets went to the correct person or even, in fact, someone who had paid. She rifled through this pile of tickets and could not locate my tickets. She summoned her supervisor who simply directed me to queue at the ticket office.
Pye was eventually given a pair of tickets, printed out before his eyes, for the seats he purchased. On his way to the turnstiles to enter the Cottage, he noticed additional tickets being sold surreptitiously for cash by stewards outside of the facility. Sure enough, when Pye and his friend got to their section, they found found a woman sitting in one of their seats. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, depending on your perspective, she had the exact same ticket in her possession as he did. Apologetic stewards, who Pye spoke of glowingly, arrived and found him another seat, albeit away from his companion.
Outside of ticketing concerns, he was privy to the legitimate danger outside of the Cottage and a lack of concern and empathy by club employees in relation to it.
With the queueing of people at the ticket collection booths, people trying to get to their turnstiles with only a few minutes to go until kick off and people simply moving in all directions, we were trapped - I do not use that word lightly - trapped in a throng of what appeared to be hundreds, if not thousands of people. People were falling over, a man in a wheelchair was being jostled, a young girl in front of me was separated from her parents and was in tears and I was being pushed from behind, as was pretty much everyone in my immediate vicinity. Where were the police, the stewards; where was the direction, the announcements of directions or information? Where was the crowd control?
We managed to get out of this dangerous throng of people essentially by shoving and forcing our way through. I am absolutely stunned that no-one was seriously hurt during what was a horrible crush. This was by far the worst overcrowding I have seen in nearly twenty years of attending football matches and no-one, not the police, nor the club, were taking any measures to resolve or help the situation.
I shouted to a female mounted police officer who was stationed directly in line with the Haynes statue that there was a crush going on "down there" indicating the direction and said that someone was going to get hurt. I was blanked. Not even any recognition of my comment. Nothing. I said the same to a young steward also and, to his credit, he ran in that direction and I could hear him shouting directions and telling people not to push. On his own.
Why was their no support for this young man? Why were the police more concerned with telling people, and I quote - "Come on, head to the gates, yes it's busy but maybe you should have got here earlier"?
The last line stands out the most, "maybe you should have got here earlier?" It stands out not only for the lack of concern and desire to rectify the situation that it displays, but also because it turned out to be Fulham's official stance.
Sarah Brookes, Fulham's Director of Communications, told the Guardian:
"The fundamental problem was that people didn't want to go into the ground when they arrived at the Cottage. They wanted to stay and party in the streets and that caused congestion, which meant that some people had difficulty picking up their tickets. We had loudhalers appealing for people to go into the ground but they refused. You can't physically pick people up and force them to go in. We were a victim of people not wanting to go in to the stadium on time."
"The flow-rate [of people going into the ground] at 7:30pm [15 minutes before kick-off] was 266-per-minute, whereas for a Premier League game it would be between 500 and 600. That's why there were only 11,500 people in the ground at kick-off."
This would seem all well and good, outside of the reassignment of blame, if Pye had not mentioned that he had arrived with more than an hour to go before kickoff. At that point, things were already out of control.
Further, Brookes attempted to squash every other aspect of Pye's account (though, if you read through the comments, you'll note that he clearly wasn't the only one to share this version of events):
The club also suggested that the gravity of the congestion has been exaggerated and that, as far as it is aware, there was no threat to public safety. "I looked outside before kick-off to see why more people weren't coming in," said Brookes. "I didn't see anything that alarmed me hugely although I do see why some people could have been concerned. There were a lot of people with musical instruments and vuvuzelas and so on and if you're not used to that environment it might be unsettling."
Some fans have also reported arriving at their seats to find them already occupied by people who also had tickets for the same seats. Fulham say that is impossible.
"We're not aware of any reports of duplicates," said Brookes. "No one could have got into the ground with a forgery, our system prevents that."
The story hadn't received much attention prior to Fulham's response. Funnily enough, it was the response that lead to a number of appalled fans and members of the media alike to take notice.
Noted football journalist Jonathan Wilson, who was on hand for the match, acknowledged the hectic scenes outside of the stadium and shared his disgust towards the club's comments on Twitter.
Fans arrived late? Many who prepaid queued for over an hour. And, frankly, if I've paid for and collected a ticket, why shouldn't I turn up 15 minutes before kick-off?
And perhaps most accurately of all, Wilson said:
I actually wasn't riled till I saw Fulham's statement.
By all accounts, the affairs outside of the Craven Cottage were a nightmare, but not a travesty. Stevenage Road is a tight corridor on its own. When you couple that with a large grouping of fans, many of which were perhaps unfamiliar with the area, and what sounded like, despite the club's statements otherwise, a below average allocation of stewards, you have a recipe for disaster. While events may not have reached disaster-like scale, it seems as though that wouldn't have been outside the realm of possibility.
As Wilson said, the idea that fans are to blame for the crunch by showing up just prior to the start of a match, a weekday match at that, is absurd.
Instead of simply coming out, accepting blame, apologizing to those who attended, and promising to learn from their mistakes, Fulham chose to play it off as though there was no mistake on their part, and instead lay fault upon the fans.
The one party to lay blame upon, though, were the hosts. Instead of taking the high road, Fulham took the lowest and, in the end, come out as the bad guys in this mess.