Help us make the Kassam Stadium a great place to watch football
Although everyone is looking forward to Tuesday night’s local derby against Swindon Town at the Kassam Stadium it is a fixture that means plenty of hard work for Neil Holdstock, Safety Officer at Oxford United. A free-signing from Saracens RFC two years ago as Deputy, this is Neil’s first season in the Hot Seat.
“I am enjoying the role” he says.”I am lucky enough to work in a sport I love, and as a football fan I love being involved on matchdays, although it’s very rare that I get to see any of the game itself. Saturdays for me are all about making sure that supporters coming to the Kassam enjoy the match in as safe and comfortable environment as possible. We’re not here to spoil anyone’s fun; our brief is to make sure that the atmosphere encourages people to bring their families, and to encourage the next generation of Oxford fans.”
Obviously a game against Swindon represents a challenge, something that Neil recognises with a very honest appraisal.
“It’s different because of the historic rivalry plus the small trip down the A420. We have been working closely with Thames Valley Police for a few weeks on this one, and there are plans in place. The number of stewards, for example will be nearly double what you would normally see for a match.
“I think if fans took a moment and thought about it they would realise that the extra security measures have an impact elsewhere; that money could have been spent on players rather than stewards or police for example.
“It’s the same with flares in the ground. OK, Austria was under different laws but in this country it is an offence to bring flares into stadia. Even just carrying one into the ground can lead to a three year banning order, let alone lighting it. Same thing with jumping the barrier and going on the pitchside; that’s a three year ban too. Those are court bans if found guilty, which are accompanied by a criminal record and could affect your ability to get jobs or even travel abroad for holiday.
“The vast majority of fans at Oxford are fantastic and we are not trying to ruin anyone’s fun, but we do need to raise awareness. I think that is happening. For example against Portsmouth this season the game was moved down a category, which cuts the police bill and helps the club enormously”.
Neil and his team are also keen to make it easier for fans to report any improper behaviour or chants that they may see or hear at future games.
“It’s hard sometimes if you see someone yelling abuse or whatever. You don’t want to cause a confrontation, so we are developing a system where you report it from your phone direct to the control room and let us deal with it. Hopefully fans will see that in the near future.
“It is all about as many people as possible coming to see Oxford United, respecting the fans around them, and enjoying the Matchday Experience,”