2018 – Insights from the Chair

This last year has been a significant one for the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA).  The launch of the Green Guide, personnel changes, both within our team and in government, and continued debates around safety issues at sports grounds to name a few of the themes we have been involved with this year.

One thing continues to be clear.  Our purpose to ensure sports grounds are safe for everyone is as relevant now as when we were formed.  Back in April, I was delighted to be reappointed by the Secretary of State to Chair the SGSA for another three years. We have made significant progress over the past three years thanks to the incredible work of our small team and the breadth and depth of their knowledge and expertise. But there is still more to do. As well as continuing to undertake our important regulatory work with football, we are continuing to expand our reach out to other sports in the UK and internationally. All sports and territories are covered in the new edition of the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds – the Green Guide – published in October.  After two years of consultation and rewriting the guidance, this document is the global gold standard for sports grounds safety – something we can all be proud of.

Our work in and on the SGSA Board has been supplemented by very interesting match and stadium visits through the year.  In Brentford, for example, we learnt about their new stadium development and saw the first phase of the construction work. Plus, I was pleased to attend match visits at Wembley, Cardiff City and Brighton and Hove Albion. Such visits provide useful insights into the work our Inspectors carry out and the processes used by clubs to ensure events are managed safely.

It was particularly useful to take our Board on the road, holding one of our meetings in Northern Ireland.  Here the SGSA is undertaking safety advisory work for 28 sports grounds under a new contract, one of a number secured during the year. Again, it was a learning experience for myself and fellow Board members to visit sports grounds and hear the views of the key stakeholders. Our annual conference, this year held in Manchester, was our most successful ever by attracting more than 200 delegates from across the country and sports. It was a great listening opportunity for all of us at the SGSA as well as a forum for spreading and sharing best practice. Each of these experiences has helped to inform my discussions with heads of governing bodies to understand their views and explain the expanding role of the SGSA.

One of the benefits of being a small organisation is that we are able to arrange for the whole organisation – Inspectors, staff and the Board – to take time out together by holding an annual joint meeting. This year the meeting was held at Oxford United, where we had a tour of the ground, including seeing the pilot scheme they’re running to manage persistent standing.  I really value these sessions as they provide an opportunity for everyone who works for the organisation to share their views in an open forum and to get to know each other as people.

‘Since ’tis nature’s law to change, constancy alone is strange’. This quote by John Wilmot has certainly been true at the SGSA. In August, we welcomed Martyn Henderson as interim Chief Executive whilst Karen Eyre-White is on maternity leave with her beautiful baby. Since starting, Martyn has made an excellent contribution to the organisation. At a Board level, we said a fond farewell to long serving member Derek Wilson and look forward to welcoming two new members in the coming weeks. Ministerial changes have also taken place with Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP taking over as the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Mims Davies MP as the new Minister for Sport and Civil Society. We have already had positive meetings with the new Minister and look forward to working with her in the future.

Away from the SGSA, football is still in my heart and I renewed family season tickets for the Shed Upper at Chelsea and there too we welcomed a new manager. I was also very pleased to have helped as Trustee the RAF Museum at Hendon which had a Royal Opening of its major Centenary Development as well as continuing to support the Windsor Leadership Trust, my 15th year as Fellow. Interestingly, all of these involvements contribute albeit in different ways to my role at the SGSA.

Looking towards 2019, we are heading into the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and we must be ever mindful of the words of Lord Chief Justice Taylor and can never be complacent when it comes to safety at sports grounds. The SGSA is determined to ensure we continue to play a full role at home and overseas to ensure that sports grounds are safe for everyone.

Alan Coppin


Sports Grounds Safety Authority