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Fans shelter from the sun ahead of the match at Villa Park © Alamy

Lids off: Heatwave treatment shows clubs and leagues must do better

During what was one of the hottest weekends of the year football fans have once again had to voice complaints about their treatment – particularly around access to water and other heatwave essentials such as sun cream.

At many fixtures this weekend temperatures exceeded 30 degrees Celsius. These conditions mean that players have special protections, including drinks breaks during play – but it’s clear such thinking often does not extend to spectators’ safety and wellbeing.

Lids off: The bad

One of the most unpopular restrictions commonly seen at English football is fans being forced to remove lids from water and other soft drinks containers when entering a ground. In extreme temperatures Government guidelines state you should take in fluids regularly, stay hydrated and carry water on you at all times.

Removing lids on plastic bottles makes this a hassle and sadly many clubs enforced this rule over the weekend despite the soaring temperatures. Supporters across the Premier League expressed their frustration at the lack of communication and the confusing information around personal refillable bottles.

Away fans unsurprisingly bore the brunt – in one example Manchester United fans attending the Brentford Community Stadium reported stewards confiscating water at the turnstiles.

There were also complaints at Villa Park about the sweltering conditions in the away fans’ concourse, with refreshments proving almost impossible to purchase at half time.

Perhaps the most ire was saved for Manchester City who advised supporters heading to the Etihad on Sunday that they would not be allowed to take sun cream into the ground.

This predictably went down like a lead balloon, and the club apologised saying the information was wrong and that fans could bring sunscreen into the Etihad. “We would like to apologise to supporters for this administrative error,” the club said.

“The health and safety of supporters is our priority and we will ensure that internal processes are reviewed following this matter.”

The good: Imps show the way

It wasn’t all bad and some clubs went out of their way to make sure fans could beat the heat. Special mention here should go to Lincoln City who gave out free water to all fans on Saturday.

“The board of directors have provided funding to supply thousands of complimentary bottles which will be available throughout the LNER Stadium footprint on the day,” Lincoln City said before the game. “Bottles will be available in the stands during the match, with stewards distributing these to supporters as required.

“Fans are also encouraged to bring their own water to the game, with the club not enforcing rules prohibiting people bringing bottles into the stadium with a lid for this game.”

There was also a nice moment captured at the Amex Stadium where Brighton and Hove Albion and Newcastle United fans were captured sharing sun cream across the away fans partition.

What does the FSA think?

It’s clear that the forced removal of lids from bottles of water is an outdated and infantilising restriction.

FSA caseworker Amanda Jacks said: “The vast, vast majority of supporters have shown themselves to be trustworthy time and time again – football has to start treating people with respect especially in instances of extreme heat like this.

“Supporters shouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops to be allowed to take in water and sun cream.

“We knew about the weekend’s heat days in advance. The fact that there was confusion and mixed messaging or in some cases no messaging, to fans is indicative of an industry that talks a good talk but doesn’t always walk it.”

As the climate crisis becomes a reality, it’s a situation fans and clubs will have to deal with more frequently in future.

Proactive clubs like Lincoln have shown that it is possible to treat supporters with respect and help keep them safe, by providing ample access to water (with zero cases of accompanying disorder reported).

We urge the Premier League, EFL and clubs to take on board the feedback and recent experiences from supporters to put in place guidance, in the same way they already do with players, in the event of expected extreme heat to help keep spectators safe at all stadia.

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