The Steward's Tale
Vital SWFC forum member hellboy0628 gives us the lowdown on his time as a steward at S6, the highs and the lows of the job, and his thoughts on security, standing and fans.
Q: How did you come to be a steward and what attracted you to it?
A: I saw an advert to become a steward on the official site and it was around the same time that overtime at my current job was being taken away from me so I thought it was a good idea to be involved at Hillsborough: the extra money would come in handy and I'd get to see some of the game. That was the icing on the cake because I was saving towards my wedding at the time so I couldn't afford to go to as many matches as I would have liked!
The fact that I would get to see what goes on behind the scenes at Hillsborough was enticing and just to walk inside the ground and have access to areas most fans don't usually see (like the holding cells or the trophy room!) was great.
Q: How do you go about learning the job? What kind of training do you get?
A: At my first game they threw me in the deep end and I learned by standing next to an experienced steward and picking up as much as I could to be going on with. Subsequently, we had all-day training on Saturdays when the Owls were away. The problem I had with that was I'd usually get the letter to inform you of the training on the actual day itself. Missing training sessions because they hadn't given me enough notice wasn't great - it made me look bad and I was informed if I missed another training session they would let me go. They admitted it was their fault but had to maintain their stance, I guess. I didn't stay much longer after that.
Q: Did you ever find yourself thinking 'I'd do exactly the same as him', but you still had to caution a bloke or give him advice because that was your job?
A: There are plenty of times I would have let things go, things I could have seen myself doing, but what people don't realise is there are CCTV cameras all over Hillsborough: sitting in the control room watching all the monitors is an official who says he is acting with the best intentions and the safety of the spectators in mind.
To give you an example, I really didn't like moving a sweet old man from an unoccupied seat back to the seat up in the rafters he bought by mistake. His argument was that he couldn't see the game properly (he had glasses that looked like jam jars) and that he had asked for a ticket close to the pitch but the ticket office gave him a seat up by the executive boxes. Even though there were plenty of seats he could have sat in without causing anyone any problems, I was asked to tell him to take the seat he paid for or leave the ground. By then of course I have people around me shouting and swearing at me and telling me to leave him alone. For me, it would have been the right thing to do to leave the guy there, he wasn't hurting anyone, but I had to play by the rules.
Q: How much can you watch the footy and how much the crowd?!
A: When I first started I got to see a good proportion of the game but as the 2005/06 season went on the club introduced more safety regulations which meant more crowd watching. The crowds are generally well behaved, a bit of swearing perhaps, but that is the worst of it. I don't think the crowds really need heavy monitoring but that was (and still is) the way the game is turning.
The main problem for people was the checking of tickets every time they came onto the stand. We were obliged to check their tickets at the bottom of the stairs and top of the stairs too.
Fans were getting a ticket checked twice before being able to take a seat, also during the game if they went to the toilet or concession stand. The irony was we knew where they were sitting but we had to be seen to be checking the tickets! It was getting to the point where you didn't see much of the game at all.
Q: What were the things you found most difficult? Was it ever scary?
A: There were a lot of unnecessary situations that I was put in because of the sometimes questionable decisions the club have made for 'safety'.. when we played the Blades last year on the South Stand, there was a big fight between Wednesday fans (including some women) near the concessions on the concourse. You have to try and split it up and call for help from the police without having any way of making contact with them - I had to run onto the stand and wave down a load of police to break it up and make arrests while Owls fans were fighting each other!
Q: What do you think of the push to re-instate standing at football grounds?
A: I would be happy if there was a standing section at Hillsborough: it would possibly mean higher attendances and would certainly cater for a particular type of supporter. Would it be worth spending all that money and would it get enough supporters to make it worthwhile though?
Something I would love to see in the ground though is a video screen to replace the old score board; it would look great and it would create sponsorship revenue.
Q: Any funny moments that you really enjoyed?
A: I remember speaking to a slighty tipsy Steve MacLean and JP McGovern (whilst they were injured and watching from the South Stand), fresh from leaving a little surprise in the locker room for an unsuspecting victim. They were singing and chanting loudly like regular Wednesday fans!
Q: What did you think of stewards before you became one? And what did you think of stewards after you became one?
A: I was like any other fan before I became a steward in that I didn't particularly like them and thought of them as trying to control things that in ways didn't really make sense or wouldn't hurt anyone.
After seeing things through their eyes, I now know what a hard job it is and I actually sympathise with them: they're the messengers that get shot for ideas like ID photos on season tickets, simply because theres no-one else to find on match days that people can complain to.
What I would urge readers to realise that if a steward asks you to do something try to have a bit of patience and realise that they're not asking you to do it to spoil your day but because it's their job. Bear in mind when you set foot in Hillsborough you should really be on your best behaviour: it's supposed to be an enjoyable day out after all.