Barnsley Council express surprise and disappointment at closure of Barnsley FC's West Stand

BARNSLEY Metropolitan Borough Council have expressed disappointment at the decision of the club to close Oakwell's West Stand with immediate effect following structural inspections and say that the facility passed an inspection by the local authority last month.

The 4,500 capacity facility will remain closed until further notice, with around 1,000 season ticket holders to be relocated.

Safety issues and crowd management concerns were cited as reasons to close the stand, but the Council - who jointly own Oakwell along with the Cryne family - who also still retain a 20 per cent shareholding in the club - say that their own inspections last month deemed Oakwell to be 'perfectly safe' to host professional football and accommodate supporters.

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Barnsley MBC and the Cryne family jointly own Oakwell, which each having a fifty per cent stake.

Oakwell's West Stand. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

A council statement read: "The Council inspected the ground on behalf of Oakwell Community Assets Limited (OCAL) as the landlord on 21 September 2021 and found the physical infrastructure (including the West Stand) perfectly safe to host professional football and accommodate fans in all areas to the capacity set out in the current Safety Certificate. The club didn't raise any concerns during this visit.

"The Safety Advisory Group also undertakes pre-season and in-season inspections to ensure concerns around safety management are addressed. They have recommended a range of remedial measures that the club should action to meet their responsibilities as tenants, but there are no current concerns about the physical infrastructure at the ground.

"In 2003, the Council stepped up to save the club and help secure its future. The Council has a direct interest in Barnsley Football Club through a 50 per cent shareholding in Oakwell Community Assets Limited (OCAL), a joint venture partnership with the Cryne family. OCAL owns the stadium and surrounding land.

"OCAL aspires to make sure Barnsley has a professional football club for the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the borough.

"We're somewhat surprised and disappointed for the supporters at the decision that Barnsley Football Club have taken to close the West Stand, and we urge them to make their desired improvements and get the fans back in as soon as possible."

The backdrop to the issue is the ongoing situation regarding the ownership of Oakwell, with the club's majority shareholders at loggerheads with the council and Cryne family.

Back in late August, Barnsley co-chairman Paul Conway has confirmed that the club had abandoned plans to purchase Oakwell and intended to stay as tenants - and did not rule out the prospect of potential relocation if the facility is not modernised.

Previously, in January 2020, the club's majority shareholders exercised an option to buy the Cryne family's stake, but subsequently raised a number of concerns in relation to that option.

Since then, no significant headway has been made regarding the purchasing of Oakwell by the club's majority shareholders, who believe that their ability to boost revenue streams is stymied by the lack of modern facilities at a ground which they do not own.

The club have pledged to continue to talk with the council regarding tenancy and rental terms.

Speaking about the decision to close the West Stand, chief executive officer Khaled El-Ahmad said: "The safety and security of supporters and staff is of the utmost importance. I made a promise internally to staff and fans alike to be transparent regardless of how difficult the news is to share.

"The decision is purely based on a structural report and a number of West Stand specific crowd management challenges.

"With the history associated to the stand, in addition to the knowledge that a number of supporters have sat here for consecutive seasons, the club appreciates both the emotional and practical problems this decision brings.

"Please know that we have members of staff working tirelessly to implement solutions in time for our next home game."

The situation is under review.

The Reds' next home game is a Yorkshire derby with Sheffield United on Sunday, October 24.

The closure of the West Stand is the second ground issue to impact upon Barnsley in 2021-22.

Earlier this season, the club elected to reduce the capacity in the North Stand for visiting supporters to just over 2,000 due to ongoing issues surrounding the recruitment of matchday stewards. The faciilty holds around 5,000 fans.