Sunderland chiefs reveal reasons behind Stadium of Light fan plan
Sunderland chiefs have outlined their intention to relocate away fans at the Stadium of Light to the lower bowl – with fans set to be consulted on the plans.
The issue was discussed at the recent supporter collective meeting, held on November 10. The meeting is a chance for a number of fan groups to discuss issues with club bosses, including the Red and White Army, Branch Liaison Council, Senior Supporters’ Association, Spirit of 37, SAFC Supporters Liaison Group.
The away fans are currently located in the Premier Concourse but due to a number of issues around supporter safety, the intention is to relocate them back to the lower bowl, with full details set to be outlined to fans during an extensive consultation process.
Why are Sunderland considering this?
It follows incidents during games at the Stadium of Light this campaign. No decisions would be taken, though, without consultation with Sunderland fans.
The club had already in the short-term agreed with the EFL that coins and vapes will no longer be permitted in the away section.
Earlier this season, Burnley offered their 'sincere apologies' to supporters affected when a number of missiles were thrown during Sunderland's 4-2 defeat at the Stadium of Light.
The club have also said they will continue to consider netting as a solution to the problem, but that they believe that at this stage it will not be effective in dealing with the issue.
Sunderland are to work 'hand-in-hand' with supporters during an engagement process as they consider the best long-term solution.
Speaking at a recent Q&A with Sunderland fans, the club’s chief operating officer Steve Davison was asked about the situation and he confirmed that Sunderland will consider moving away supporters back to the lower bowl in the long term. The item was again discussed at the supporter collective meeting.
This is actually a requirement for Premier League clubs, and Davison believes it will additionally ease safety issues.
Getting the configuration of the ground right and preparing its next phase as it reaches 25 years since opening was, Davison said, one of his top current priorities.
He stressed that all decisions would be made only after extensive dialogue with fans, which will begin soon.
What did Steve Davison say at the recent meeting with fan groups?
On ground configuration, Mr Davison told the supporter collective meeting: “We need to look at the location of the away fans, the location of the family zone, re-opening the premier concourse and our accessible seating availability for a return to the Premier League.
“We also need to look at how the club will plan to use netting. Netting may have to be used as a segregation if the away fans move down to the lower section. The club is not against netting and whereas it won’t stop smaller items such as coins, it can stop larger items.
“With the end goal in mind, we can change the whole configuration of the stadium and this will then allow us to carry out all the refurbishment required across all concourses. We haven’t done any work on this to date, as it didn’t make sense to do this in League One as there were higher priority expenditure items, but we can now work on our longer term plan consistent with the investment programme.
“There had been dispensation for the away end to be in the upper tier when we were last in the Premier League. We wouldn’t get this if we returned to the Premier League, as there are now increased safety concerns.
"With that in mind, the conclusion we have come to is that we need to move the away fans to the lower bowl. In the long term this needs doing, so it makes most sense to make this change first. We may be able to have the away end across the lower and upper tier, but this also would come with challenges. These are the topics we need to consider and engage on.”
David Rose, from Red and White Army, asked: “It is finding the process on how we consult the fan base at large on this. We will all have varying opinions, so
how do we consult with everyone on this?”
Mr Davison added: “I am conscious of the difficult position the supporter groups are in with this and I know there will be dissatisfied fans whatever the outcome. That is why how we engage is so important, as well as facilitating the seat moves.
"We will need to put all the facts in front of all supporters, so all the issues are understood.”
Earlier in the meeting, Mr Davison outlined why it was necessary, he said: "There were issues with the away fans at the Coventry City and Burnley home games this season and the club has had a meeting with the SGSA directly on stadium safety. We have a clear view from the SGSA on what their expectations are for Sunderland AFC.
"The SGSA regulate all stadia in England, so we must have a clear understanding of their requirements. We have also seen what happened at the games previously mentioned and that has impacted what we need to do going forward.
“At our last supporter collective meeting, it was explained that there was a need to make changes to the stadium. The first phase involves implementing changes for the start of the 2022-23 season. With this in mind, the new stadium structure needs to be finalised before season cards go on sale in March.
“Any engagement we conduct must be completed by the end of the January to ensure decisions and operational changes can be finalised. When we discussed the temporary measures for the Cardiff City game at the last meeting, it was agreed that there was also a long-term plan to decide on and this work has commenced.”