BCFC: Stadium Woes Part I

On December 16, Birmingham City confirmed in a brief statement on bcfc.com that following an annual structural survey of St Andrew’s stadium, remedial work had been identified which meant that both the Kop and Tilton stands needed to be closed until further notice. Nearly three weeks later, nothing more has been said – so what’s going on?

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

The coronavirus pandemic has made the closure of stands much less of a problem than it could have been, but staff were moved out of offices in the Kop temporarily while the problem was looked at.

It could be argued that with it looking increasingly unlikely fans will return to the stadium this year, problems with the Stadium are not worth thinking about. However, with the level of rumour doing the rounds I think it’s important to try to introduce more facts to the equation.

What exactly is wrong?

As it stands, the club have made no official announcement about the problems that need to be rectified.

While there were some initial rumours that there were problems with the footings and foundations, multiple sources have now confirmed to this website that the issue lies with bolts – both loose and missing.

How this has happened is as yet unknown, but there are rumours – and I must stress that they are only rumours – of issues with rust.

While the problem was initially severe enough for offices and other amenities in the affected stands to be closed, it would appear that some normality has been restored.

Offices in the Kop stand are back in use while directors and senior management personnel watched the game against Blackburn Rovers from Kop Stand boxes.

However, I understand that the seating areas in the main outside part of the stand are still out of bounds.

There has also been a knock-on effect for Blues TV, who have had to move from their usual space in the Kop stand to the main stand.

It’s my understanding that Blues TV have to take a feed from iFollow at the moment due to not having access to the gantries, but with the move across the stadium it seems that they’ve been forced to take the graphics from iFollow too as there is no access to vision mixing equipment.

This makes it harder for Blues TV to put out a “home-friendly” feed and potentially costs the club lost revenue for sponsorship.

What can we do to understand this problem better?

As the problem was raised at an inspection (according to the club statement), I believe that there is a question of whether this problem has been noted before, and if so if anything had been done about it.

On December 19, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Birmingham City Council, stating:

Birmingham City Football Club recently revealed that following inspection, the Tilton and Kop stands are to be closed pending “maintenance” work.

As a fan of the club, a member of the Supporters Trust (which has an ACV on the ground), and a shareholder in Birmingham Sports Holdings which owns both the club and the ground, I would like to know:

a) Whether the outstanding work has been noted on previous inspections and if remedial work was recommended or demanded; and if it has been previously demanded what sanctions have been put in place when it has not been carried out.

b) The scope of the remedial work required

c) Whether the safety certificate has been withdrawn from the stands until the work has been carried out

It’s my opinion that bolts don’t come loose or rust overnight; something has to have been noticed in previous inspections and while I can imagine there is an “acceptable” level of work needing to be done, the question would be if any work has been recommended or demanded of the club.

If issues have been flagged but nothing has been demanded of the club, then for me the council would have to share some of the blame for lack of maintenance as it is their inspections which allow a safety certificate to be signed off.

Likewise, if an issue has been flagged and no sanction has been put in place despite work not being done, then again, the council deserves some of the blame.

Worse still, if nothing has been previously noted then I’d be curious to know how a problem such as rust and loose bolts has occurred in such a short space of time; especially as fans have not been in the ground for a large portion of it.

Once we know this information, then it is also possible to understand how BCFC has dealt with maintenance issues. Sources I have spoken to have been critical of the level of investment put into maintenance, and it would be interesting to know if this has been a problem which has been kicked into the long grass over a period of time.

Who will pay to fix it?

As Birmingham City FC don’t own the ground, there also comes an interesting question if the cost to fix the issues come out of the club’s budget or the stadium company’s budget.

Much will depend on the terms of the lease – information which is not available to us sadly, so it’s difficult to be able to understand that question.

It’s an important question for BSH as well as the club. If the repairs are down to the club, then new investors Oriental Rainbow Investments (ORI) will be liable for 21.64% of the cost following their recent purchase of a stake in the club. If it’s down to the Stadium Company’s budget, then ORI are responsible for 25% of it as they took a slightly higher percentage of that company.

As a shareholder in BSH, I emailed the company secretary to inquire if the holding company was expecting to reserve a large amount of money as a contingent liability to remedy the issue.

The response I got was fuzzy, but made note that any money BSH would put in would only be done so if matched by ORI on a proportionate basis; ie BSH won’t put in any money unless ORI do so too.

What that means to me is that whatever happens, BSH will be looking to Vong Pech for some of the money to fix things – and that shareholders in BSH at least will be marginally happier with the situation.

I do not believe that this would be something that would be claimable under insurance.

From what I learned in a three year spell working in insurance (albeit some time ago), insurance pays out only for single insurable events, rather than something that has taken place over a period of time such as rust.

What happens next?

Until the club releases information, it’s difficult to know when and for how much the repairs will be finalised.

However, under FOI rules the council has 20 working days to reply to me, which means they should give me some form of answer by January 19. With lockdown in full effect now I can understand that it may take longer, however I’m hopeful we can soon get a better idea of the situation from it and understand just how bad the problem is – if it is bad at all.

What would help in the meantime – especially if it really isn’t a big problem – is if the club released further information to reassure supporters.