FA Cup games for National League Clubs

An image taken at the home of Stamford FC

The new football season is now underway and some clubs have already started on the long road that will lead to Wembley Stadium next May.

You may not know it but there are 59 leagues with a total of 86 divisions across the country feeding hundreds of teams through to the Football League. Most of the clubs playing in those leagues up and down the country are entitled to enter the FA Cup.

Naturally, clubs in the National League System want to progress as far as they can in the Cup, to make it through the qualifying rounds and draw a plum tie against a higher league team, perhaps even Premier League opposition.

Whilst these ties can be lucrative, they can present a club with a whole new set of safety issues that they have never had to consider before.  Is their ground suitable for a high profile game and can they cope with a much larger crowd than they have ever attracted previously?  For clubs facing these issues, help is at hand.

Safety should of course be the over-riding priority at every stage of hosting any football match, from the arrival of visiting supporters in the host town, to their departure after the game.  Every club should have appropriate, comprehensive and integrated safety, security and service arrangements prepared for every game but for smaller clubs not used to dealing with large crowds, this is essential. 

The Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds – the Green Guide – sets out the key principles that are integral to providing fans with a safe environment and a range of guidelines to help clubs prepare a plan for the accommodation of spectators, that can then be presented to the local authority, police, other emergency services and the Football Association (FA) for consideration of the safe capacity for the ground.  The SGSA’s Guide, Safety Management, also provides established good practice for stadium Safety Officers and other personnel engaged in stadium safety preparing for a game. 

Neither guide is intended to be prescriptive or to provide a definitive model for universal application at every ground. The expectation is rather that the key principles will be adopted and good practice customised to reflect the specific circumstances at each individual football ground.

The FA provides grading guidance for each level with the National League System http://www.thefa.com/my-football/club-leagues/ground-grading. These documents provide clubs with the ground requirements for each step up the league chain. When a club draws a higher league team in the Cup at home however, there can be further requirements.

Once a match is confirmed, the club will need to prepare its ground’s safety management arrangements for the game, including:

  • Developing a match day Operational Plan, covering the responsibilities of key personnel, capacity calculations, stewarding arrangements, medical provisions, fire risk assessments, contingency and emergency plans, traffic management plans, pre event checks and briefing of safety personnel.
  • Liaising with the local authority (LA), police and other emergency services as soon as practicable, to allow the LA time to assess the infrastructure and safety arrangements, and for the police and other emergency services to gather intelligence and allocate resources, if necessary.

There are a host of important issues that will need to be addressed by clubs hosting games against higher league opposition in the FA Cup, some of which they will not have had to consider before, including:

  • A Statement of Intent and arrangements for the handover of responsibility
  • The ticketing policy
  • Arrangements for the separation of rival supporters
  • Entry arrangements
  • Spectator entry flow/counting arrangements
  • Use of public address and visual communication facilities
  • CCTV operations and event strategy
  • An alcohol policy and monitoring arrangements 
  • A spectator searching strategy
  • The location of broadcasting equipment
  • A diversity/inclusiveness strategy and assessment procedures
  • A lost child procedure and child protection policy

The road to Wembley is a long one and there will be plenty of upsets and shocks along the way, many of which will take place at the homes of lower league clubs.  With proper planning and ground management, fans will be able to enjoy them all in safety, wherever they occur.  If you are at a club that needs advice and guidance on how to prepare for a big game or are just not sure who you should be talking to about safety at your ground, please contact the SGSA or the FA for more information.