Barnsley FC Supporters Trust criticise disregard for fans in open letter to club

BARNSLEY FC Supporters Trust have penned an open letter to the club and the owners of Oakwell - expressing their disappointment at a perceived disregard for many fans who are being forced to move from the West Stand following its closure.

Earlier this month, the club took the controversial decision to close the facility with immediate effect following structural inspections. Barnsley Council - who jointly own Oakwell along with the Cryne family - criticised the decision in a statement and said 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.

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Safety issues and crowd management concerns were cited as reasons to close the stand, but the Council stated that their own inspections last month deemed Oakwell to be 'perfectly safe' to host professional football and accommodate supporters.

The historic West Stand at Barnsley's Oakwell ground. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

The letter from the supporters' group read: Formed in 1887, Barnsley FC have enjoyed 134 years experiencing the trials and tribulations of being a football club and a cornerstone of the town and the community. Each one of those years has been played at Oakwell in front of an adoring and loyal Barnsley faithful.

These multiple generations of supporters, that have experienced an ever-developing Oakwell over the decades, are the lifeblood of the football club. Without them and their support the football club is nothing.

Players, managers, captains, and owners of the past, have spoken with passion and positivity about what being associated with Barnsley Football Club has meant to them and how the football club epitomises the values of the town: hard work, honesty, respect, and integrity.

Unfortunately, with the recent announcement of the closure of the West Stand, the values of honesty, respect and integrity appear to have been forgotten.

How have we found ourselves in a position where 1,000 season ticket holders are faced with the difficult decision of choosing between an inferior seat that will likely diminish their Oakwell experience, or ending their association with a football club they’ve supported for years, decades or a lifetime?

How, when Barnsley supporters have backed the club in its hour of need during a pandemic that threatened its future, are these same loyal supporters being disregarded so easily?

How have we managed, as it appears on the outside looking in, such an alarming fall from grace in less than six months regarding club and supporter relations?

6,000 supporters bought season tickets knowing that seeing any live football at Oakwell was unlikely in that season. We then had 10,000+ supporters buy season tickets for this season, despite the uncertainty around when capacity crowds would return to Oakwell.

This was the Barnsley FC community showing support for the players and coaching staff who pulled off the unthinkable away at Brentford, went one better by coming close to achieving the impossible last season, but also to support the amazing staff behind the scenes that work tirelessly for the club on our behalf.

With this in mind we urge and plea with the different ownership groups involved with Barnsley FC and Oakwell to consider the below points:

Supporters were initially told the West Stand was closed for safety reasons, but this was later changed to operational concerns. Could this be clarified in a full and transparent public update?

For the Sheffield United fixture on 24th October, the North Stand will accommodate its largest away following of the season at over 4,100 supporters. Can it be confirmed or denied that the closure of the West Stand was commercially motivated to increase match day revenue? If the motivation isn’t a commercial one, can you explain the sudden increase in the away team allocation for this particular game?

Can we have complete transparency on what the issues with the West Stand are, what the plan is to rectify these issues, and when we can expect to see the stand re-open?

Contradicting statements from different parties benefit nobody. Even if the Supporters’ Trust must act as a mediator, can ongoing communications be aligned, collaborative, and in the best interests of supporters from all those concerned?

Whether one supporter or 100 supporters have decided to end their season ticket association with the football club, can we see a clear strategy to appease these people? Also, considering that many supporters will be moving seats under duress, and non-West Stand supporters are equally upset about how this has been communicated and managed, what do we plan to do as a football club to rectify this and bring the community feeling back to Oakwell?

We encourage all parties to regularly consult with BFCST on matters that will directly impact on supporters. We’re here to be a support function for advice and supporter consideration prior to decisions and announcements being made.

We appreciate difficult decisions are sometimes inevitable, even more so during a pandemic, but our means for existence is solely to ensure supporters feel heard in times like these. At present, they don’t.