Keith Sears, retiring this month, after 27 years of service to the SGSA

Keith Sears is retiring this month, after 27 years of service to the SGSA. His expertise and experience and passion for improving safety at sports grounds will be greatly missed by all at the SGSA and across the sector.

We talk to Keith about his time at the organisation.

Keith Sears joined the SGSA (formally the Football Licensing Authority (FLA)shortly after it was formed in 1990. He was appointed by the Board on a 3-year secondment as Head of Policy and Safety Certification. He was the first full time member of staff and his role involved establishing the organisation, recruiting inspectors and working with the football authorities, local authorities and clubs to set out how the FLA would oversee safety at football grounds.

Keith, what were the biggest challenges at the time?

There were many challenges at the beginning, working with stakeholders to help them understand the role of the organisation, its ambition and expectations for safety. There was a natural anxiety amongst stakeholders about the demands a national body might place on the sector and how the government’s all-seater policy would impact the sport.

One of the biggest concerns at that time was the widespread use of pitch perimeter fencing to prevent pitch invasions and their use in managing supporters. Many, and not just at the FLA were concerned about the safety implications of fencing, but there was a fear in the sector about how to manage supporters if there wasn’t any.

We had to demonstrate that good safety management practices along with improved infrastructure and facilities could impact on crowd behaviour. We developed safety management guidance and helped clubs and local authorities to implement these practices and feel comfortable in changing the approach to crowd management.

What have been the highlights?

Being part of a team to help bring about changes in safety at grounds is what has kept me here. It’s hard to imagine that safety management wasn’t considered until the 4th edition of the Green Guide. The guidance contained more detail than previous editions and set out the importance of stewards and safety officers being properly trained and qualified. Being part of the team that developed the 4th edition and subsequent editions, and knowing how influential the guidance is around the world is hugely gratifying.

What will you remember and be remembered for?

I’ve seen four Chief Executives and 4 Chairs and have worked on 3 editions of the Green Guide, as well as shaping policy and working with clubs and local authorities more recently as an Inspector. When I first joined the organisation, I was here on a 3-year secondment, my plan was to return to the Home Office to head up the fire safety department, but I enjoyed being at the SGSA, the work was interesting and we were making a difference.

I’ve been a Chelsea supporter all my life and football grounds looked much the same in the 1990’s as they did in the 1960’s, apart from the fences. The last 27 years has seen dramatic transformation of grounds, they are nothing like those of the 1990’s. Grounds are more modern, facilities have been improved and supporters are much more diverse, with more women and families attending. It's amazing what has happened, and to have played a part in that is very satisfying.

Keith will be retiring at the end of the month. We would like acknowledge the impact he has made to improving safety for the millions of people that go to sports grounds and extend a huge thank you for his commitment.