FA in safety talks after crowd crush

Concerns over England warm-up after 15 people are injured in Johannesburg stadium stampede
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The Independent Online

The Football Association last night sought assurances that England's World Cup warm-up match today against a local South African club would be safe after a stampede involving supporters at a similar game outside Johannesburg saw 15 people injured.

The South Africa World Cup organisers were left embarrassed just four days before the start of the tournament by the crush in a crowd watching a warm-up game between Nigeria and North Korea at a 10,000 capacity stadium. None were killed but, with free admission, reports said that many more than 10,000 turned up with the expectation of getting in.

The incident came hours after the nation's president Jacob Zuma and Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, gave their support to the country's readiness to host the event. England are playing a similar fixture today against the South African side Platinum Stars at a 20,000-capacity stadium to which only 12,000 will be admitted.

Last night the FA held a meeting in their Royal Bafokeng hotel with local organisers to obtain assurances of safety at the Moruleng stadium 40 miles north of Rustenburg in the North West province. The FA has given away the tickets free, with the distribution the responsibility of local organisers. An FA spokesman said: "Safety and security comes first. We have met stadium management and we are in contact with the local organising committee to ensure the appropriate measures are in place." Privately, the FA regard today's game as a different proposition to yesterday's match at the Makhulong stadium in Tembisa, a suburb of Johannesburg.

The game against the Platinum Stars was originally to be played at the Royal Bafokeng campus but the quality of the pitch convinced the FA to switch it to the Moruleng stadium. It will also count as one of their open public sessions that are a requirement of Fifa.

The reports from the Makhulong game, which was televised in South Africa, said that there was an initial crowd surge when the stadium gates were opened and people were trampled as fans forced their way into the ground. The gates were shut in response but there was a second surge when they were re-opened. Fourteen fans were hurt and a policeman was seriously injured.

Colin Udoh, a Nigerian journalist, was among the crowd trying to enter the stadium – which is not a World Cup venue – when the stampede started. He described the approach to the ground as "hell" as hundreds of supporters tried to push their way through the gate.

He said that at least two of those crushed were children, "not more than 10 years old". Police attempted to intervene to calm the crowd and were able to rescue several people from the crush. Udoh said that the crowd surge forced a number of fans to run in front of a bus bringing Koreans to the stadium, narrowly avoiding a further accident.

In the England camp, midfielder Gareth Barry is now rated at just 20 per cent to play in Saturday's game against the United States. There is no problem with Wayne Rooney and reports that he has a hamstring problem are thought to be a mischievous story put about by the American camp.

Goalkeeper David James is struggling with a knee problem despite having trained yesterday and will probably not be fit for Saturday. Robert Green is currently ahead of Joe Hart in the pecking order. Defender Matthew Upson has a temperature and missed training yesterday, while Fabio Capello is still deciding whether to risk Ledley King in today's game.

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