Security industry must be open on challenges

It was great to meet some familiar – and new – faces at The Football Safety Officers Association 30th anniversary Conference and Exhibition in March.

This is a chance for safety officers to share experiences and best practice, particularly given the fact we all cater for the same fans, often encountering the same issues.

It is equally important therefore that we use it as a platform to discuss challenges, as it is only through being honest and open that we can overcome these together.

One of the biggest problems facing the industry at the moment is the massive shortage of safety stewards which is making recruitment more difficult than ever before.

Stadium has been in the industry for 13 years and in that time things have really changed. If we did a recruitment session 13 years ago, we’d have 80 people turn up, but we’ve had recent sessions with just 10 per cent of that figure.

Because we have been in various lockdowns for so long and the economy has now opened back up again, we now have more events than we have safety stewards across the UK.

The demand for safety stewards is very much there which is why we have launched a major recruitment drive at Stadium to fill almost 300 roles in the West Midlands.

Nationally we all need to look at why it is difficult to recruit at the moment. Rather sadly, one thing that our staff up and down the country have noticed is an undeniable rise in levels of anger.

Figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council for this season up to December show arrests at football matches have increased 38 per cent from the 2019/20 season – up from 655 to 901.

In the media recently there has been several instances involving fans at football matches. A man who threw a plastic bottle onto the pitch and hit a player during a Premier League game received a four-year Football Banning Order at the end of March, but a week before a fan who threw coins and assaulted stewards in an FA Cup game only received a £100 fine.

There’s a lack of consistency on punishment and more banning orders are needed to ensure fans – and safety stewards – do not have to endure this kind of behaviour. They could be your wife, your son, or your brother, and they must be protected while in their place of work.

At Stadium, we also work hard to offer incentives to our staff. That can include training to all of our new recruits, providing them with coach transportation if they are fulfilling a role that is further away from their home, and also providing them with variety of work. We have also just launched our ‘Introduce a Friend’ scheme, offering staff a bonus if they introduce a friend who completes their first three shifts.

As an industry, we can also not get away from the fact pay is also an issue, one that is heightened by the fact some football clubs pay more or less than others.

There are some clubs who cannot financially pay the living wage and only pay the minimum wage, but it can make filling those roles more of a challenge.

If we as an industry were to sign up to the national living wage that would then encourage more people to join, and retain more of those already here.

Without that steward a club cannot open their gates, they are not going to spot the fire in the stands and evacuate the fans, and they cannot put their game on.

For me the steward is ultimately the most important person on match-days and, as an industry, we have got to start recognising this.

— Lorraine Baillie, International Director at Stadium