Drones over Valley Parade

An image of a drone flying above a football ground

Two drones flying over Valley Parade, the home of Bradford City, during a match against Bristol Rovers on 17 September, resulted in the match being suspended to ensure the safety of spectators, players and officials.

David Dowse, Facilities Manager at Bradford City talks to us about what happened during the match and how he and the safety team responded.

Thanks David for talking to us today. Can you tell us what happened during the game on 17th September.

There were 2 drones; one over our TL Dallas South Stand and one above the centre-circle.  They first came into the area at half-time and were noticed by stewards and reported to the Control Room by radio.  They were flying at a very high level.  I monitored the situation and spoke to the 4th official as the teams returned for the second half.  As the 2nd half kicked off, the drones left the area.  In the 60th minute, the drones returned, in the same locations but flying much lower.  I spoke to the 4th official and asked the Referee to take the players off the pitch and return to the dressing rooms.  As they made their way towards the dressing rooms, the drones left the area.  I asked the Referee to keep the players out on the pitch while we monitored the situation and if the drones didn’t return to get the game underway in 2 minutes.  In total, the stoppage was 5.5 minutes.

When you first heard about the drones, what did you think they were doing?

My first thought was that someone was filming the game.

What was the reaction of the players and spectators?

The match officials, team officials and players were very understanding.  Spectators were also fine.  The delay was only 5.5 minutes long. I would imagine that pressure to resume would have built up from spectators if the suspension had been much longer.

Do you have a drone policy and procedure in place?

The potential for drone flights has been in our contingency plan and mentioned in the match day operational briefing for the best part of two years.  The contingency plan worked well.

Is this communicated to stewards at the briefing?

Yes, in the operational order and during the briefing with Stand Managers which is then cascaded to stewards.

How did you ensure that the relevant people knew what to do?

We operate a traffic light procedure, where we remain on green if everything is fine, move to yellow if there are issues we are dealing with and red if we have to evacuate the stadium.  We went to Code Yellow and made regular PA announcements.

What role did the stewards, police and others play?

Stewards first reported the drones; stewards and staff reacted well to the Code Yellow.  The game was a Category A match, so Police were on duty outside the stadium but not inside.  The Police Commander came into the stadium and supported me while decisions were being taken.  This included having officers carry out checks in the residential area around the stadium to see whether the drone users could be identified and located.

How did you communicate to players and spectators what was happening?

I went down to the dug-out to communicate with match officials and players (having previously warned the 4th official of the potential problem).  With regard to spectators, we issued repeated messages about why the game had been suspended, asking them to stay calm, stay in their seats and await further announcements.

Were there any attempts by the club or police to gather evidence or find the operator of the drone?

The Police have attempted to gain evidence and this is ongoing.

What worked well?

The Code Yellow procedure, the contact with the match officials and how they cooperated and got the players off the pitch.

What could have been better?

We didn’t have adequate draft scripts specifically relating to drones for the PA announcer. We put together scripts very quickly and the announcer did well, but it would have been easier if we had these ready in advance.

Have you made any changes to your plans as a result of this incident?

The contingency plan has been tweaked to include 3 draft messages; the reason for the suspension, on-going announcements as to why the game has been stopped and an announcement that the players are about to return and get the game underway.  Our standard announcement that the game has had to be postponed and asking spectators to leave the stadium in an orderly manner has also been adapted to include a reference to a drone flight.

Have there been any ramifications from supporters, the club, the football authorities or broadcasters?

No, I think everyone has been taken by the novelty effect, the fact that the delay was only 5.5 minutes long and there was no harm done at the end of the incident.  As a Club we have tweaked the contingency plan, spoken to West Yorkshire Police and I have done a couple of interviews with the press and one with our own Bantams player in the days following the incident.  The FA have written to the Club asking for an explanation of the suspension in play to which I have responded.

Are you planning any further communications with supporters as a result?

We mentioned the drone flights in our press releases prior to the following home game and explained that we felt we had dealt with the matter well, thanked supporters for their co-operation and explained that we would have to follow the same procedures if it happened again.  The Bantams player interview was also repeated in our match day programme for our following home game.

Thank you David for your time. 

The SGSA current advice on drones is to consider including drones as part of contingency plans http://sgsa.org.uk/news/consider-drones-part-your-contingency-planning