News, Culture & Society

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION – Wembley Shambles: Sportsmail goes undercover to find shocking safety worries

Wembley Stadium on Friday suspended a firm supplying staff for Saturday’s FA Cup final after a Sportsmail investigation exposed alarming security lapses.

The FA launched an urgent inquiry after our undercover operation revealed safety failures at three recent sell-out events at the national stadium. 

It comes with Prince William attending Saturday’s clash between Liverpool and Chelsea in the first showpiece final since the debacle when England were beaten by Italy at the Euros last July.

After 2,000 England fans without tickets stormed the Euro 2020 final, football chiefs were ordered to fix woeful safety failures following Baroness Casey’s official inquiry. 

But on Saturday, a Sportsmail investigation reveals how serious shortcomings still persist at Wembley and casts doubt on whether lessons have been learned.

A Sportsmail investigation has exposed alarming security lapses at Wembley Stadium ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final showpiece between Chelsea and Liverpool at the national ground

Sportsmail's investigation reveals how serious security shortcomings still persist at Wembley

Sportsmail’s investigation reveals how serious security shortcomings still persist at Wembley

Sportsmail's undercover operation revealed safety failures at three recent sell-out events

Sportsmail’s undercover operation revealed safety failures at three recent sell-out events

Sportsmail reporter Isaan Khan undercover working as a steward and made some shocking discoveries - including being offered a £1,000 bribe by a group wanting access to the VIP area

Sportsmail reporter Isaan Khan undercover working as a steward and made some shocking discoveries – including being offered a £1,000 bribe by a group wanting access to the VIP area

INSIGHT: ‘It’s all so lax. We don’t have a clue what we are doing’ 

The lone Liverpool fan wore no colours but his accent gave him away at the food bar. The City supporters — scenting blood — circled back, and soon it was all kicking off at Wembley.

The fan took a hammering. He was lucky the punches were haymakers which seldom hit home. As an entry-level steward, I had to wait for the more senior stewards to arrive. 

That seemed to take longer than it should have done. It was my first time stewarding at Wembley. As far as the agency was concerned, I could have been anyone.

I had given false addresses on the form and hadn’t even signed it. That should have been picked up in the security checks. But two days later, I was sent a link to a two-hour Zoom training session.

I joined the session with about 10 other new staff, all of whom also had their cameras and mics turned off. None of us was asked to switch them on — we could have just been snooping to get an idea of the stadium layout and internal details. 

There was a ‘quiz’ at the end, commissioned by Wembley, which required 18 correct answers out of 20 to work at the stadium.

But we had been sent a slideshow presentation to assist us with it, along with the reassurance that ‘no one has failed it before’. Perhaps that is because, if you fail, you are allowed a second attempt at the same questions.

The quiz is so easy that one of the four possible answers to a question about the stadium’s ‘method of management’ is ‘the Fingers Crossed Approach’.

To a question about the stewards’ dress code, options include ‘fancy dress’ and ‘shorts and polo shirt’.

I passed the test and no interview was required. I was allowed to work at Manchester City v Liverpool three days later — the first time the firm would see my face. Anyone could have turned up.

Over three shifts, there were groans from supervisors when stewards were reallocated to other areas of the stadium, leaving some stairwells and exits sparsely manned. 

One of my colleagues told me: ‘You get paid to watch footy. If anything happens, you go to the people above you to sort it.’

Inexperienced stewards, mostly in their teens or early 20s, were oblivious to catering staff waltzing into stairwells to watch the game. That left the bay area exits crowded, a potential hazard in the event of an evacuation.

An entry-level steward on my shift said: ‘It’s all so lax. When you start, you have no clue what you are doing. I’m here just to watch the game and go.

‘I’ve been put outside once on tickets and bag search in the past without any previous training, because they were short.’

At one event, I was guarding lifts that gave access to the VIP areas when a group pulled out a wad of cash and offered me £1,000 to let them through.

I declined. When I told a colleague, he begged to be allowed to guide the fans to his area so he could let them through for the money. 

Our undercover reporter working as a stadium steward at recent Wembley events found serious shortcomings:

  • He was able to secure a job despite his application including false details which should have been picked up in the required security checks;
  • He was not interviewed for the role or given any in-person training;
  • No one searched his bag before he was allowed into supposedly secure areas;
  • He was offered a £1,000 bribe for access to the VIP area – other stewards indicated they would have taken the money;
  • Stewards, free to access much of the stadium, were largely unsupervised for hours before the matches began;
  • Catering staff cluttered up stairways to watch matches – in contravention of safety rules.

Wembley said on Friday night: ‘We are taking these allegations extremely seriously as they do not meet the high standards that we expect from our stewarding contractors.

‘We have already begun an investigation into the matter and we have suspended the relevant stewarding contractor pending the outcome of this investigation.’

Julian Knight MP, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, on Friday night said he would be writing to the FA to call for Baroness Casey to be brought back in to investigate.

He said: ‘This is completely unforgivable on every level. Have no lessons been learned from the near tragedy of last summer? 

‘I am particularly concerned to read about the lack of checking, vetting, and security that presents itself through this investigation. 

‘There are serious questions the FA has to answer in terms of the care it takes to look after the stadium and its fans.

‘I thank the Mail for bringing this to the fore before a potential tragedy occurred.

‘I am going to write to the FA and also urge the FA to re-employ Louise Casey to oversee an investigation into the findings of the Mail’s report.’

One leading football supporter liaison officer said: ‘None of it surprises me. It’s a huge concern. 

‘The FA must know about this. They can’t not know. The more pertinent question is: are the FA gambling with our safety? 

‘Are they gambling on the fact that there won’t be mass disorder, crushes, fire, terror attack, stadium collapse or any of those things?’

After drunken fans breached security last year, Baroness Casey’s inquiry identified a ‘collective failure’ in planning, including a ‘vulnerable’ stewarding operation lacking experience. 

Her damning report found stewarding problems during Euro 2020 were ‘known to’ football chiefs ahead of the final.

But when Sportsmail‘s undercover reporter applied for a job as a steward at Forward Security, using a bogus home address, a faked invoice and an employment history naming businesses that do not exist, he was given the role without even an interview.

Forward Security is based in Towcester, Northamptonshire. 

It is one of about 20 firms Wembley uses to supply stewards, and operated at the Euros.

While the reporter supplied a correct passport number and national insurance number, the glaring holes in his application included a failure to sign the form. 

He was given a link to join an online training session two days later, and during the two-hour session on Zoom, he did not even have to show his face or speak.

The reporter was then sent out to work at the two FA Cup semi-final matches at Wembley, between Liverpool and Manchester City, on April 16, and Chelsea versus Crystal Palace the next day. 

He also helped marshal fans attending the world championship boxing fight between Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte on April 23.

Euro 2020's final between England and Italy in July was marred by violence and crowd trouble

Euro 2020’s final between England and Italy in July was marred by violence and crowd trouble

Fans knocked over barricades and ticketless supporters stormed through ticket gates

The police was called in to try to manage the violence

Fans knocked over barricades and stormed ticket gates, with the police forced to intervene

At the Chelsea versus Crystal Palace match, the reporter’s bag was not searched as he arrived, and other staff members were able to bring in rucksacks, despite stadium policy insisting a plastic bag and brown paper lunch bag are the only items permitted.

The reporter’s bag contained a glass bottle — which is strictly prohibited — but it could have contained something far more dangerous.

At the Liverpool versus Manchester City match, a junior steward said: ‘They are always short on numbers. I’ve been rung up before to say that if I don’t take on jobs I’ll be fired. It’s a bluff, but it’s because they are that short.’

At all three events, the reporter witnessed numerous catering staff being allowed to crowd the stairwells to watch the action – a major hazard in the event of a potential evacuation.

Among the hundreds of stewards at the three events, the vast majority were aged between 18 and 24 and limited in experience. Every shift had at least a handful of new starters, with entry-level stewards at Forward Security paid the equivalent of £10.85 an hour.

Peter Houghton, director of operations at the Football Safety Officers Association, said Sportsmail‘s findings ‘are absolutely a concern’.

Houghton added: ‘If you have any stadium which has an ongoing issue in terms of vetting unqualified stewards, and you don’t know who they are with bags before very high-profile matches, and that is repeated and people know about it, that obviously poses a very serious threat.’

Dr Geoff Pearson, an expert on football crowds and policing who contributed to the Casey report, said: ‘The Casey review into disorder at Euro 2020 identified huge problems with stewarding. If some of those practices are still going on despite the criticisms raised by the Casey review, that is a serious concern.

GRAPHIC: How the Euro 2020 final descended into chaos due to inadequate security planning

GRAPHIC: How the Euro 2020 final descended into chaos due to inadequate security planning

‘This current situation we have is to my knowledge unprecedented. When it actually comes to the quality of the individuals that are provided by outsourced stewarding firms, unfortunately I’m not surprised to hear that shortcuts (in terms of vetting) are being taken.’

On Friday night other MPs joined Knight’s call for the FA to immediately act.

Peter Bone said: ‘I am shocked and disappointed by the slapdash way stewarding at Wembley is being handled. I congratulate the Daily Mail for uncovering what is a very worrying situation. 

‘Without checks being carried out on people employed within the secure area, there must be a risk that terrorists could infiltrate Wembley Stadium. I would call on the sports minister to immediately investigate these allegations.’

Steve Brine said: ‘The FA should remember the eyes of the world will be on them this weekend, in footballing terms but also in their ability to show they’ve learned the lessons of the Euros. If they get it wrong again, many will be calling for major changes this time.’

A Wembley spokesman said: ‘Every contractor we use are contractually obliged to carry out appropriate reference and background checks on anyone that they recruit to work at Wembley Stadium.

‘The journalist provided correct passport and national insurance details. However, we understand that some of their other personal information, which they provided to our contractor, was false.’

Wembley confirmed an investigation was under way, and that the stewarding organisation had been suspended. Forward Security did not respond to Sportsmail‘s request for a comment.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk