Europe’s elite step up security measures for Champions League return
‘Manchester bombing showed there were no low-risk events any more’
FC Basel warm-up at Old Trafford ahead of their Champions League clash with Manchester United on Tuesday night. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP
Europe’s top football clubs have received expert advice on stepping up their counter-terrorism and security operations before the start of group matches this week in the Champions League and Europa League. Safety and security officials from all Britain’s competing clubs and football associations met their European counterparts last week in Munich, at an annual stadium and security conference jointly organised by Uefa and the EU, to consider the latest strategies for preventing terrorist attacks.
Since the atrocity at the Manchester Arena in May, when a suicide bomber killed 22 people by attacking as spectators left an Ariana Grande concert, security officials are concentrating more intensively on safety as crowds exit stadiums. Police and stewards now patrol the areas around the grounds more intensively, and CCTV scans are carried out, before exit doors are opened at the end of matches.
The EU-Uefa conference followed a briefing held by Uefa in June in Amsterdam, at which clubs’ security staff were advised to watch outside stadiums on non-matchdays as well as matchdays for potential terrorists planning attacks carrying out “hostile reconnaissance”. Uefa is offering further expert advice sessions and a specialist counter-terrorism briefing for stewards at clubs and football associations in its 55 member countries.
Many major clubs, including Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, have bollards and other vehicle prevention obstacles around their stadiums and operate rings of security checks including bag searches on the approaches to grounds. The Premier League held expert counter-terrorism advice sessions in the summer, at Wembley for southern clubs and Old Trafford for northern clubs, in an effort to share best practice.
In the UK the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, a branch of the Home Office, first issued detailed protective security advice for stadiums and arenas in 2006, and it maintains updated advice on guarding against attacks at football clubs, entertainment venues and “crowded places”.
John Beattie, Arsenal’s stadium and facilities director, who led a session at the Wembley seminar and also spoke about counter-terrorism at the Uefa-EU conference, said: “After the Paris attacks [the triple suicide bombings outside the Stade de France in November 2015 during France’s friendly match with Germany], venues tended to concentrate on the safety of people as they came in. Now, since the Manchester bomb, we have to think further about protecting people as they leave. We are putting up as many measures as we can to deter terrorists from targeting our stadiums and to counteract what they do.”
Beattie said further concerns had been prompted by the incident last month in which a crossbow bolt was fired on to the Oval pitch during the county cricket championship match between Surrey and Middlesex: “We now also have to consider protection of our stadiums throughout an event, as well as before and afterwards.”
Steve Frosdick, an independent safety and security expert, said that the attacks in Paris, and in Istanbul where 38 people were killed by a bombing outside Besiktas’s stadium following a match against Bursaspor, were “a game changer” for European football’s security concerns.
“Then the Manchester bombing showed there were no low-risk events any more,” Frosdick said. “Stadiums, clubs and national associations have all been upgrading their counter-terror security measures and Uefa has been providing training and support.
“Venues have been increasing their 24/7 deterrence arrangements to make hostile reconnaissance more difficult. At matches, spectators will not notice some of the changes, for example plain-clothes personnel trained to watch for suspicious appearance or behaviour. But they might notice the adoption of a layered security approach with additional measures as they get closer to the stadium. Hostile vehicle mitigation and searching may be more thorough and there may be restrictions on bags.”
The EU-Uefa conference cautioned clubs and police forces not to allow this necessarily heightened counter-terrorism effort to create a more draconian police approach at football matches generally. Uefa and policy-making institutions across Europe promote less heavy-handed and more collaborative policing at football matches, having concluded that it de-escalates tension and reduces potential clashes with supporters.
More countries are being encouraged to implement the British system of banning orders for proven hooliganism, and an “exclusion, inclusion” approach which recognises that the majority of supporters are law-abiding. Incidents of brutal policing, including the response of the Madrid police to chanting and drinking by Leicester City supporters before their Champions League tie with Atlético Madrid last April, were criticised by Uefa officials, in front of the conference’s Europe-wide audience of delegates.
The officials argued forcefully that television images of police striking supporters with batons fuel a more hostile atmosphere at football generally, and they urged police to follow the modern policy approach of “safety, service and security”. This was adopted by Council of Europe countries, including Britain, last year in a new convention which makes good practice on counter-terrorism and co-operation between nations compulsory. The convention superseded the previous 1985 agreement made after the deaths of 39 people at the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus at the Heysel Stadium, which focused almost exclusively on countering hooliganism by supporters.