Access problems at the new venue for showpiece finals make for a disaster waiting to happen, says Richard Browne
The first Worthington Cup final at the Millennium Stadium was a shambles. Cardiff was just not prepared for a huge influx of people on a Sunday morning. The most frustrating feature of the whole chaotic day was the refusal to delay the kick-off by any more than ten minutes. With only one Sunday service on the trains, most people had no choice but to arrive by road. There were 65,000 in the ground at kick-off, with some 8,500 still struggling to get in. There were stories of fans arriving in Cardiff after a six-hour journey in time to watch the second half in a pub near where their coach parked, miles from the stadium. I was among the lucky ones who only missed the first 15 minutes, to be greeted on arrival by the slogan “It’s a fan thing”, and the discovery that there was no food or drink and no programmes.
The misery of the “Millennium experience” will, however, pale into insignificance if the warning signs are not heeded. The authorities were amazingly lucky that the day passed off relatively trouble free. Tremendous restraint was shown by supporters in the face of glaring incompetence. Had the fans not gained an extra half hour (and penalties) in which to get “value for money”, the police might well have had a major incident on their hands. Credit here must also go to Liverpool supporters – in the melee at the exit they showed sufficient nous not to antagonise desperately disappointed and frustrated opposing fans.
After the crush on leaving the ground there was no segregation and fans had no idea where they were to head. Coaches had stopped on the roadside a mile or more away and went on to park wherever they could. Whatever the faults of Wembley, segregation of fans is much harder to achieve around Cardiff city centre and there is almost certain to be trouble there if the lessons of the Worthington Cup final are not learnt in time for the FA Cup final and play-off weekend.
The authorities have to appreciate the unusual position of the ground and make the necessary preparations for the next time more than 70,000 people arrive. Signs should be posted miles up the motorway to ensure that all traffic does not enter from one road. More trains are essential. If the issue is swept under the carpet future visitors will not be sufficiently informed to prepare their journeys better. The fear now is that fans will turn up in numbers the day before the match – hardly something the Cardiff police or public will welcome.
From WSC 170 April 2001. What was happening this month