On Friday night, Celtic’s Supporter Liaison responded to enquiries by fans who were asking about the safety of Ibrox with an interesting tweet.
To be frank, the answer suggested itself by the nature of the question.
He was asked if Ibrox had an up to date safety certificate, to which he responded “it wouldn’t be able to host a match tomorrow if it didn’t.”
And that’s Celtic’s one and only public word on the matter. Case closed, right? Ibrox has a safety certificate and there’s nothing left to see. If questions are being asked in the background our club must be satisfied with the answers, or they wouldn’t let our fans attend the match. Or so you’d think, right? In truth, Celtic won’t make an issue of this whatever their private views are. Inside our club, this is a matter which is viewed as none of our concern.
That’s an understandable attitude. I’ll leave it to the readers to decide if it’s a healthy one.
Ibrox is still open for business.
It was granted a safety certificate in July of this year and that’s good to go until July next year. In the meantime, the Council has washed its hands of the affair, Holyrood doesn’t want to know and the clubs whose fans have to visit the place aren’t in the slightest bit bothered about the potential hazards.
All this in spite of a wealth of public information – including Dave King’s own statements – which suggest that no serious maintenance work has been carried out at that ground in over ten years. Named companies are said to have conducted surveys which reveal shocking flaws in the structure of roofs and in one recent incident fans had to be removed from a part of the ground during a match. There is enough empirical evidence to make people nervous.
John Paul Taylor is factually correct when he points out that Ibrox has a valid safety certificate. He was asked a direct question and gave a direct answer. But Heysel had a valid safety certificate too, although anyone who’d attended the ground knew it was a crumbling ruin. Hillsborough had a valid safety certificate, but it was a death trap and a disaster waiting to happen. Bradford’s safety certificate was up to date, and valid. And 56 people died there.
Heysel was in a scandalous state of disrepair, but neither the club who owned it or the local authorities opted to close it down. UEFA themselves green-lit it for the game. A lot of blame was tossed hither, thither and yon in the aftermath, most of it falling on the fans. No-one involved in the upkeep of the ground, or the granting of its own safety certificate, was ever prosecuted for what was allowed to happen there. It remains an outrage.
There were dozens of examples of serious crushes at football matches before Hillsborough, and the putting up of fences in front of the fans was a disgraceful decision that should never have been granted, as it represented a clear risk to public safety. Yet many grounds in England had those fences up and that was a contributing factor in that case.
There were numerous issues surrounding Hillsborough as a stadium; its safety certificate hadn’t been upgraded in over ten years and on a number of sections it actually failed Green Guide standards. Yet Sheffield Wednesday and the FA ignored those issues and allowed the match to go ahead. Families of the bereaved considered suing both. The club was eventually sued by the police, and settled the matter out of court.
Bradford held a valid safety certificate even though the stand which caught fire that day was a wreck, and was due for demolition only days later. Concerns over the safety of the ground had persisted for years.
All this is to saying nothing of Ibrox itself, where two major disasters have occurred; out of respect for the dead and because I don’t want to be accused of muck-raking or trying to score points I’m saying nothing else about that.
Nobody wants to take responsibility either before or after one of these disasters.
The licensing agencies, the police, the governing bodies all pass the buck from one to the other, as if it was a parcel of dynamite which no-one wants in their lap for half a second. Those who are injured or killed never really know who to blame, and the system’s designed that way.
Thanks to Andy Muirhead’s diligence and his Freedom of Information request, I’ve got a copy of Sevco’s Ibrox safety certificate and I’ve read through it. So much of the safety certificate itself is vague and open to interpretation. There are redacted sections, which make me automatically suspicious.
So much of the onus is put on the club to inform the authorities of any material issue which might affect the validity of the license. In fact, the accompanying letter to Andy makes that crystal clear in the closing paragraph:
“For the avoidance of doubt, it is the management team of any football stadium in Glasgow that has ultimate responsibility for the safety of their spectators.”
This is the HSE equivalent of the Pinsent Mason Report. Self-policing of a sort, where public safety depends on the honesty and transparency of a man a judge called a “glib and shameless liar.”
The Green Guide is the government standard on public safety at sporting events. It is a list of the requirements that are placed on any organisation which wants to host one. I don’t know how common it is for clubs to have a number of deviations to the Green Guide … but Ibrox has two and a half pages of them, all granted as part of the certificate.
All have been redacted in the copy.
Sevco’s answer to the Council’s enquiries prior to the certificate being granted boils down to a letter sent from within the club to the safety committee, the relevant part of which reads:
“I can advise that the Club’s annual structural survey was completed in March of this year. At this time engineers observed that the metal cladding on the roof was beginning to show signs of water ingress and that some of the internal metal structure was in need of painting. Your own technical staff, I am sure, will confirm such findings are not uncommon in buildings of this age and type. A plan is in place to effect repairs to the roof over the coming months while the stadium painting programme has been adjusted to include the areas highlighted in the survey. It is important to stress, and for the avoidance of doubt, no structural or safety concerns were raised in the survey.”
The club’s current safety certificate was granted one week later.
I don’t want to get in to a series of re-treads here of an ancient theme, but the costs to the club of major restructuring work on Ibrox would be far beyond that which they are likely to be in a position to meet. If a structural report which revealed major, dangerous, flaws had been commissioned and was in possession of those at the ground, who realistically believes they would simply accept that, hand it over the proper authorities and proceed with the work?
I am not suggesting the directors of that club are uniquely cruel or reckless.
They would not be the first organisation to make a decision like that one. Such a program of maintenance wouldn’t just be financially ruinous to a board which is already finding it difficult to pay the bills, but it would be a calamity for the local economy, spark chaos in the national sport as relocation to somewhere else, probably Hampden, would need to be negotiated … the dominos would just keep on falling on this one, with unknown consequences for all concerned.
There are also the enormous political ramifications of a decision to close one of the city’s three major sporting venues prior to a local authority election year. With Labour expected to lose heavily and control of the council tipped to change hands, this is a headache which no-one in the ruling party needs and which could be easily kicked on down the road.
I could understand, therefore – without condoning, mind you – why people in Ibrox and some on the Safety Advisory Group might well take the decision to play the odds. Let next year’s councillors worry about it. King can roll the dice and take his chances, that nothing goes wrong before either he’s got the money to start serious repairs – if ever – or he gets the chance to walk away and leave someone else holding the bag.
The problem with that is that the safety of spectators is compromised in the process, and if something goes wrong – with this matter already sparking widespread interest, with there being debate on the forums and elsewhere and so much public interest focussed on this very issue – there will be harder questions than have been asked in this city for decades and no matter how much buck-passing there is, or deflecting blame, shrugging of shoulders and “it’s someone else’s problem” going on … there will be outrage that it was allowed to happen.
God help everyone who looked the other way if it does.