Brackley Town hosts SGSA Chair

Colin Peake, Operational Support Director at The National League writes about his matchday visit to Brackley Town with SGSA Chair, Alan Coppin:

Last Saturday Alan Coppin accompanied me on an inspection of Brackley Town, a National League North member.

Why Brackley Town? Firstly, the club was due a second grading visit to reach their FA status of B Grade. Attaining this standard means it permits the club to play at Step 2 of the National League system and the sixth tier of English football. There is a set of criteria within the B Grade of many items the club must achieve and which they have to be fully compliant of by 31st March. Visiting on a match day helps to appreciate and observe how the club operates to the overall criterion and how fans migrate inside and out, pre and post-match.

Such compliance covers a minimum capacity of the ground/stadium, along with other required facilities which are mandated for this level of competition. For B Grade there needs to be a minimum capacity of 3000 with attendant evidence of methodology employed in determining that figure. The Sports Grounds Safety Act itself and the latest Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide) are integral in this production of the necessary evidence.  In the case of Brackley Town they had asked SGSA Inspector Geoff Galilee to carry out the necessary capacity examination and submit the documentary proof, which the National League and the Football Association require.

Secondly, the visit coincided with the quarter finals of the Buildbase FA Trophy.  Brackley Town, as current holders of the trophy, attempted to overcome more senior opposition from their visitors, Leyton Orient. With the cup tie being subject to pre-match ticket sales it was a good opportunity for Alan to see at first hand how a smaller club in the game deals with such an occasion.

During the visit he was able to speak to match day staff and police covering overall match management inside and outside the ground, including the segregation of each set of fans. What caught his eye was the relaxed atmosphere created as part of the match planning and policy to treat all fans as responsible spectators. A warm welcome and a smile from stewards goes a long way in creating a safe environment.

Alan was able to accompany me around on my inspection and see for himself what had to be examined. The reason why grading is so important at National League level, and clubs being proactive to improve facilities, means they would be better placed to meet ambitions which most clubs harbour thoughts for… the holy grail at the end of the football rainbow of reaching the English Football League.

During the pre-match inspection Alan was able to see the interaction which takes place, not only with senior club officials and staff, but management and players. Brackley Town are being proactive.  They had laid literal foundations for the future, ready for more terracing to be installed to reach the required of 4000 minimum capacity at A Grade. Also evident to Alan was the sheer dedication of people at the club to commit time and effort to making all they do to benefit the surrounding community which they serve with great honour.

As to the match result, there was going to be no repeat of a return to Wembley Stadium in 2019 for the Northamptonshire outfit. Leyton Orient in the end reflected their ‘pre-match favourite’ tag by winning 2-1 in a close fought encounter.

Alan was able to see for himself why this level of the game means so much to so many people for so many reasons. He was also able to sample that underlying feeling of enjoyment by standing on the terraces with the fans, whilst at the same time understanding what it takes to work in unison with the authorities to make any visit a safe one for all entering the ground on a match day.

The SGSA and The National League have in place a Memorandum of Understanding to assist clubs fulfilling government legislation of safety at sports grounds.  At the same time, it recognises the difficulties clubs playing in the National League are faced with, through reduced financial assistance and lack of resources. It is a vital partnership, which can only be beneficial for all involved in working together and appreciating the skills required by those dedicated to this level of the game.

Pictured (Left to right): Alan Coppin and Colin Peake (courtesy of Peter Barnes.)