Case study: Aston Villa FC

Posted on Monday, June 28th 2021

Project breakdown
Client: Aston Villa FC
Stakeholders: The Premier League, The Football Association, West Midlands Police
Location: Villa Park Stadium
Depot: Traffix Bickenhill
Division: Events

Project background
During the entire 2020/21 Premier League football season fans had been absent from grounds due to lockdowns and COVID restrictions. Following the initial easing of restrictions in April 2021, plans were made for the return of fans but in limited numbers. By the time that under ten thousand fans attended Aston Villa’s final home game on Sunday 23rd May, Traffix had been planning for their arrival as far in advance as August 2020.

Aston Villa Case Study

The challenge
The biggest challenge facing the club was how to utilise the entire stadium for a reduced attendance of around one quarter; all seated in a socially distanced environment, using existing entrance/exit points to ensure the swift and safe passage of fans to each point. For this to work fans would need very clear instructions outside and inside the stadium. Enter the Traffix Events team.

Over a two-week period during August 2020, several visits to the stadium were made by Traffix’s Events Officer and Chief Designer to assess routes into and inside each stand. A detailed plan was created by Traffix, which was so involved that from a distance it resembled a circuit board.

Lines were drawn quite literally for fans to follow, each gate allowing for designated access numbers, fans would follow their access line and enter the stadium. Drawing approved, the next challenge was bringing it to life. However, before these plans could be put into action a second wave of COVID in 2020 put everything on hold.

Fast forward to 23rd May 2021 and fans are coming back to Villa Park. But a call from the club on Tuesday 18th brought a different set of challenges. Not only were Traffix required to set up for the matchday, which included the dismantling and reassembly of a COVID vaccination centre at the club, Aston Villa were now in the final of the Under 18 Youth Cup to be played at Villa Park on Monday 24th May. Traffix would have to repeat the process again!

The solution
The first consideration was signage in and on the stadium – new signs were planned for both external and internal walls, however, no new signage could be screwed into existing signs because of the resulting damage when lifted. Additionally, new signage could not be constructed using metal due to the potential of high winds removing signs and therefore posing a risk to passing vehicles and pedestrians.

Traffix are well versed in the trials and tribulations of staging events and so a series of materials and appropriate adhesives were trialled before reaching the conclusion that Correx, a board-based material, would be strong enough to maintain position and if removed by a force of nature, no damage would result. A semi-permanent adhesive was also sourced to fix all signage securely but with a low enough tac to enable easy removal without damaging existing surfaces.

In addition to signage, Traffix were also tasked with sourcing a floor tape which would withstand the matchday footfall and not peel, but would peel off without damaging internal floors when no longer required. Again, it was mission accomplished with the selected tape meeting the brief exactly.

But materials notwithstanding, the only way to test an event such as this is to hold a rehearsal. Add to the equation that Aston Villa wanted to set the standard in the Premier League and had put measures in place beyond those of other clubs, so nothing could be left to chance, particularly as the Chief Safety Advisor to the football league was attending the game.

The ‘mock event’ was created to simulate a real matchday. Traffix has an excellent working relationship with Birmingham City Council who agreed that roads could be closed. These closures enabled the club to erect gazebos outside of the ground, which would serve as checkpoints on a matchday where fans would register, show their ticket and have any bags searched.

On the day of the rehearsal the weather could not have been worse… heavy rain and high winds brought unforeseen challenges. The wind was so strong that two gazebos took off and, even with the additional support from sand bags, they were still not stable. The dreadful weather had in fact been a blessing.

“Prepared” is the motto of Aston Villa FC. Further preparation was required to fix the gazebo challenge and rather than leave it to the club to source a solution, Traffix took a gazebo back to HQ. Following several ideas, a steel plate footing was produced whereby a foot attached to the gazebo slid into a 2mm metal plate which provided the mass to anchor the weight. The gazebo with the new support was set up at the club for trial and in yet more atrocious weather conditions nothing moved. Job done.

On the Saturday before the game 14 Traffix operatives installed the internal and external COVID signage and tape, before taking the vaccine centre down and building the COVID matchday restrictions.

Sunday 23rd and a Traffix crew of 43 operatives had 3 hours before kick-off to close all roads and build further COVID restrictions. The number of bespoke road signs designed and produced by Traffix for this event ran into the hundreds. A total of 500 barriers were used, 250 of which were installed to create a safe zone between fans and pedestrians on Witton Lane a main road which runs directly past the ground.

As soon as the game kicked off, Traffix received a signal from the club to take down all COVID restrictions. All exits from the ground must be clear of any obstructions in the event of an emergency which requires the quick removal of fans from the stadium.

Following the end of the match, when all fans had vacated the immediate vicinity of the ground, the Traffix team took down the road closures and reinstalled the vaccination centre ready for Monday morning. The team returned at 5pm on Monday evening to set the COVID restrictions up for the Youth Cup Final kicking off at 8pm. Against the clock, the team reinstalled the COVID restrictions and road closures with an hour to spare. And to round off a successful event, Aston Villa beat Liverpool to win the Youth Cup.

Aston Villa Case Study

The result
“The whole of the world had to adapt and find new ways of working and existing at the start of the pandemic in 2020. At the appropriate time in the UK, elite sport was given the green light to start again and as time moved on, the return of spectators became a distinct possibility.

“At that point we began discussions with Derek Vinning at Traffix who ordinarily facilitates our road closure management on a match day. Knowing that keeping up to 10,000 people apart and socially distanced whist entering our stadium required specialist arrangements, I was confident that Traffix would be able to help model and provide both physical measures and specialist personnel to resolve the problem.

“Planning and preparation started early in Summer 2020 culminating with a test event in October under the worst weather conditions possible but was exactly what was required to test the principles of the plan to the full.

“As we all know there then followed another lockdown after which we were finally allowed to trial the system on not just one, but back to back matches, as we hosted Chelsea in the Premier League and the Liverpool in the F.A. Youth Cup final the following day.

“In both cases the effort, planning and numerous meetings held between Derek and the Club paid dividends and just over 15,000 entered the stadium over the two days without a hitch. Lots of people can rightly be proud of their efforts to bring fans back into stadiums across the UK, and Traffix can certainly be proud of the part they played at Aston Villa.”
Keith Wiseman, Head of Security & Match Day Safety at Aston Villa

“I would like to pass on my personal thanks to all of the Traffix team for your hard work that has gone into the planning and facilitating of Return of Spectators. All the lads worked long hours over the weekend, battling with poor weather conditions and having to turn the ground around in limited time.

“The lads are exceptionally polite and happy to help where ever possible giving the ‘nothing is too much trouble’ attitude and it is brilliant to have that support in place. Every one of your team that I have had to liaise with over the last few days have been outstanding and extremely helpful!”
Clare Buckley, Security & Crowd Safety Co-Ordinator at Aston Villa FC.

“I can honestly say that this is by far the most complex design for a single event that we have ever produced. Everyone involved from Traffix including our external signage partner, went above and beyond to ensure that this event was a success. I am as ever extremely grateful to Keith Wiseman of Aston Villa and his team for their co-operation and professionalism throughout.”
Derek Vinning, Operations and Events Director, Traffix