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Ever wondered why we need those men in orange coats?

Well I caught up with Chief Safety Officer, Tony Griffiths, before our clash against Nuneaton Borough on Tuesday and he gave us in insight into his role and those of his stewards.

On a matchday Tony is charged with sole responsibility for the safety of everyone inside the Deva Stadium. “Apart from sitting up here, drinking coffee and keeping warm, we're a waste of spacec, he joked. But joking apart, the safety of all supporters is taken extremely seriously around the Deva. “We’re here not only to look after the crowd, but we also have to look after the stadium. Everybody who comes into the stadium, be it a supporter, player, director, you name it, we have to look after them all.”

Griffiths continued: “My job spec says I am in complete control of this ground on a matchday. So, if I don’t like the look of you, I can say Rob, out you go and that's it. I could even ban the chairman from the ground! That's how important it is. A lot of people don't realise what stewarding is all about, but if there were no stewards, the game would be called off.”

Tony joined the club during a difficult period, but after over two years in charge, he has forged strong relationships with the authorities. “We have a good working relationship with the club, the police and the county council. When I came here a few years ago, I just couldn't get any stewards. We were fighting for survival, but now we've got forty six stewards in on a matchday and we've turned things around completely.”

Griffiths continued: “It has taken us nearly three years to get the safety certificate back up to 6,000 now, but the council will take that off us almost immediately if we get any trouble. So if a supporter on the North Terrace is asked if they mind not standing on the steps, the steward is not doing it because they want to, but he’s doing it because of the safety risk. It is part of the ground regulations. As I said the council could cut us back to five thousand or less as easy as that.”

There were comments being made at the time when we got the six thousand capacity to the effect of, how have they managed that without doing any building work? Truth is, we don't need the building work, we just need to keep the steps and gangways clear and safe. That’s the long and the short of it.”

Now, one of Tony Griffiths’ new initiatives, is a desire to get all his stewards through the Football Safety Qualification. If successful, Chester will become one of just three clubs in the Nationwide Conference to have achieved this standard. “Since the Taylor Report was issued after the Hillsborough disaster, that is when training came into its own. When I first came in a few years ago, everything wasn’t really taken that seriously, but now I believe we have to train our stewards professionally. We’re now starting to work towards what they call the F.S.Q. that is the Football Safety Qualification and every steward will have to go on for this. In about two weeks time stewards will be studying for their FSQ and once we achieve that standard we'll be onto the football league standard.”

“I believe there are only two clubs in the Nationwide Conference who have got to this standard. I know there are several clubs in the football league, especially in the Third Division who haven’t gone through this yet, so this will put us in a better position than many. That is why I am saying to all the fans of Chester City, give the stewards the support that they need. If they ask you to do something, the supporter is doing it for themselves, not for the club. They are doing it for their own protection.”

“People say to me, why do you have to have so many stewards. The criteria states that once we have just one paying customer coming through the turnstyles, we have to have a full complement of stewards on duty. Like this evening, we even have Cheshire County Council here who are observing us. So, if we don't do our jobs right, they will kick our butts so to speak.”

Thanks to the good behaviour of our supporters, most Chester games now pass without any police involvement and Tony Griffiths firmly believes that this is down to a wonderful group of fans. “Depending on how the season goes, we think around 80% of our games are police free. That’s a credit to the supporters, and is good for the club, as it costs us an awful lot of money for police. If the supporters carry on like they did last season, they will have done us proud this year. Like you said Rob, not a lot of people actually know what we really do. I’d like to say that I’d be happy to show any supporter around the control room by prior arrangement, particularly during one of the quieter games if that would help give a better insight.”

Rob Ashcroft
10 October 2002

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