There were barely 9,000 spectators in their seats for kick off last Friday, as the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team squared off against Guatemala in a vital Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier.
The Soca Warriors “12th man”—the fans—could not get in. By the restart, there were double the number of supporters, although roughly 2,000 ticketed fans simply gave up and went home.
Security consultant and former National Security Minister Gary Griffith—who was in charge of stadium operations for Trinidad and Tobago’s last home qualifier against St Vincent and the Grenadines—blamed the furore on an unnamed Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) official who supposedly overrode his instructions.
TTFA vice-president Ewing Davis is the football body representative with responsibility for match security.
“They foolishly decided to override what I directed and have the ticket scanning done at the main entrance point, which was absolutely ridiculous,” Griffith told Wired868, “as you cannot expect to scan 20,000 tickets by four persons at one point. I specifically stated that the scanning of tickets would take place at the 12 odd entrance gates to get into the Stadium, as per the Policy, and only scanning for persons would be done at the main entrances to get into the compound…
“Ten minutes into the game, and with nearly 10,000 persons stranded outside, I made a judgement call and directed that the tickets should just be taken from each patron, and allow them entry and scan the ticket after.
“This system ensured that over 8,000 persons got into the Stadium in 30 minutes… Had I not done so, many would never have entered before the game ended.”
So what did Soca Warriors fans who attended the match think of the whole affair?
Wired868 asked Kirwin, Savitri, Brian and ‘Mango’ to share their experience with us.
Wired868: What was the experience like for Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup qualifier against Guatemala?
Kirwin: Sigh, unfortunately the experience was not a pleasant one again. Firstly, the traffic and parking situation was stressful. I chose to walk from the Fire Station on Wrightson Road to get to the venue quicker. To enter the stadium was even more tedious. I took it for granted that we truly learnt something after the St Vincent and the Grenadines game where [everything was] very good. Hence, I got into the line [for the Guatemala match] at about 6:30pm and was in my seat at 7:21 pm.
I took the entrance adjacent to the Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field. The line there was about 40-50 feet long and about 10 people wide. Problem was there existed only two lanes to get your tickets scanned. Nonsense! To make matters worse, people kept skipping the line. There were some guys with florescent green jackets written ‘steward’ on it. They served little purpose as they just observed the line skipping taking place. No attempt was being made to keep some semblance of order there.
The stewards did not appear to be Trinis either. One even got into an argument with a patron.
I’ve attended other games, some with as much as 80,000 attendance and entrance to the stadium took no more than five minutes. The difference is the number of entry points… I don’t think it requires much thought into finding a solution for the problems we encountered. I must mention that there was a bottleneck to exit the stadium, which is another unnecessary security risk.
Savitri: Every single time I attend a game at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, it’s been a nightmare. Friday was no worse than any other, except that they were scanning tickets at the gate instead of the turnstiles.
It took us about 30 minutes to get through the gates. The security and bag check personnel were situated too close to the scanners, so everyone with bags were crossing those coming in. There were two gates opened to the uncovered stand—both before and after the game. This was amazing, since the crowd leaving was more concentrated. We eventually found seats right over the tunnel. I thought, for security/safety reasons, they could’ve opened more exits to allow a faster flow out of the stadium.
By the way, I never left my seat once the match started. There were just three out of six toilets operational in one of the ladies’ sections.
Brian: Well I had issues with how it was organised.They said that the gates were opening from 4pm and that didn’t happen. I got through due to a partner working with [a company associated with the game] and they hadn’t even set up the ticket scanner yet!
I saw that a lot of people didn’t get a chance to see the entire first half due to the stupidity of the organisers and some even got soaked in the rain waiting to get in.
There should be more turnstiles available for easy access. And if they are saying that the games open at a particular time, well then they should be ready at the time given.
To be honest, it was a joke. They didn’t even check me as I walked in. I could have had a gun in my pocket.
And guess who was sitting in front of me? [National Security Minister Edmund] Dillon!
Mango: Well back in the days it was really easier to get into the stadium to see the games. Most of the ticket entrances used to be open compared to now. I was really happy that I didn’t attend the game against, I think it was either St Vincent or the USA, because I heard getting into the stadium was horrible.
But this time I decided to go because I was told that it would be much better. When we got there around 5.30pm, it wasn’t too bad and I think that it took us about 30 minutes to enter the stadium. And while I was taking pictures of the crowd [from my seat], I realised that a lot of the stadium was still empty including the covered stands and, about 33 minutes into the game, the empty seats began to be filled. So I guess the reason for this was that the entrance to come in was really backed up and this is also because of the searching of [patrons] at the gate.
The other thing I noticed as a security expert is that the screeners were beeping when individuals went through them but no one was checked to see what items they had on their person. So I don’t know how they determined if folks had weapons on them.
And of course on exiting after the game, we went through the same entrance that we came in, instead of some other gates being opened. I guess they don’t get a lot of volunteers like back in the days or they are just about cutting cost and don’t really care about the patrons anymore. They know that our people will always complain and rant about things and, when another event or game is coming around again, it is right back to go through the same madness. Them really good yes.
Wired868: What will be going through your mind when the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) advertises its next home game?
Kirwin: To be honest, I would be attending no matter the situation. But it’s somewhat of a mental toll knowing there’s a possibility you have to endure the same drama again. It sucks a bit of the anticipation and energy from supporters because the focus drifts from football and the players and the support you’ll give, to how horrible the management is to enter the stadium and about trying to recover from that turmoil.
It makes you question your worth as a fan, because your getting into the stadium is not prioritised.
Savitri: I promise not to go to any match again. The worry of my car being towed was too much and instead of ticket scalpers it was TT$50 to park in a soggy, grassy spot. The Hasely Crawford Stadium has outgrown it’s usefulness.
Brian: I would definitely be thinking about their lack or organisation skills for our next home game because it was piss poor. But to be honest, I’m enjoying what [Soca Warriors coach Stephen] Hart has done so far. So I would go [to the game] no matter what.
Mango: That was my last game going to the Stadium unless they make it much easier to enter and exit when the game has concluded. Them really good yes.
For whatever it is worth, Griffith promised a better experience for fans at the next football event.
“Yet again there are over 8,000 persons very upset and rightfully so,” said Griffith, “and simply because some decided to do their own thing, override what I had drafted, and cause havoc.
“I can promise you that this would not take place again, and all relevant personnel would adhere to what is drafted in the Operational Policy, and not try to ‘do their own thing’.”
Editor’s Note: The TTFA’s security consultant, Gary Griffith, responds to Mango’s concern about the body scanners:
“The scanners are designed to trigger from the smallest object to a heavy massive metal object, with five colour coded signals above the scanner. It makes no sense to stop and then search every person anytime the scanner triggers off, as almost every person has car keys, a cell phone, etc. So those were the individuals that would be allowed to enter.
“It is only when it triggers above three lights, that the persons are then stopped, as it is a metal object above car key/ cell phones, so this is the alert to then search those persons.
“If we were to search everyone at every signal of the scanner, then each person would be searched and they would then probably have entered an hour or two after the game.”