KHALED El-Ahmad says all parties now understand his decision to close Oakwell’s West Stand but admits the timing of it will be reviewed.
Reds chief executive El-Ahmad closed the stand to fans in October, citing safety concerns. It is now due to re-open for the next home game against Bournemouth on January 29.
When questioned during an interview with the supporters’ trust this week, he was unable to provide details of the exact work done or the cost, although the Chronicle has been told most of the delay was due to waiting for independent safety reports to be carried out.
The council initially said the stand was ‘perfectly safe’ and said they were ‘surprised and disappointed for the supporters.’
El-Ahmad said this week: “I have spoken to Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central MP) and the council. A lot of it was probably miscommunication. We made an operational decision which, today, all the parties are supportive of, or at least understand.”
A council spokesperson said: “Our stance on the football club’s decision to close the West Stand has not changed.
“We did not, and still do not, support the decision to close the stand.”
Jarvis added: “I’ve had constructive conversations with Khaled and the team at Oakwell and support the decision to re-open the West Stand. That is the best outcome for the fans, the club and the town. I’m working closely with all sides to ensure that Barnsley FC is in the strongest possible position to succeed, both on and off the pitch.”
The stand’s closure led to widespread criticism including from Barnsley Supporters’ Trust who said the Reds had ‘forgotten their history.’
Asked whether the work could have been done throughout pre-season rather than during the campaign, El-Ahmad said: “In hindsight maybe that is something to be reviewed but the focus in the summer was so much on the manager, the CEO, the players and everything was disrupted. It didn’t come to light until it came close to the first game then it built and built.
“Then they waited for the new CEO to come in, we discussed it and I had to make a decision.”
Fans with season tickets in the West Stand, believed to be about 1,000, were given options to move to another part of the ground or get a refund – with 161 taking the refund.
El-Ahmad said: “We are doing the best we can to get them back. We have called and emailed them. I don’t want letters from supporters who are leaving and it’s sad. But we are doing our best.”
He added: “I said last time that I don’t regret closing it but I should have put it to the fans. But it needed to be closed and I still would have closed it. It was an operational decision.
“It was not nice, it created a lot of extra work internally but the staff have done a fantastic job.
“There was not an intention to upset anybody. It was a genuine decision based on what we thought was best for the club. It has nothing to do with any of the owners or the board.
“It was only my decision.”
Press, scouts and directors have remained in the stand.
“We wanted to reallocate everybody but we weren’t allowed because of the EFL rules.
“That was the only place for them because they had to have central viewing. We looked at moving them elsewhere but it was not possible.
“The other thing is that, in terms of stewarding, letting in 50 people was easier than 1,500.
“Of course it didn’t look good. But it was the only thing we could do.
“Some of the issues weren’t in that middle area.
“We closed the other areas off.”
El-Ahmad was also questioned on Barnsley’s long-term future at Oakwell.
Co-chairman Paul Conway, or his representatives, are understood to have held preliminary talks with several other EFL clubs over the possibility of groundsharing and moving from Oakwell.
That comes amid an ongoing legal dispute between the majority owners, Conway and Chien Lee’s group, and the minority owners the Cryne family who also part-own Oakwell with Barnsley Council. Conway’s group stopped paying the instalments due from the 2017 sale of the club.
He has said previously that they have given up on buying the ground due to a third party claim – which the Crynes say is more than a century old and not relevant – and are now focusing on renegotiating a rental agreement with the landlords.
El-Ahmad would not discuss the court case but, on Conway’s discussions over a groundshare, he said: “As far as I know I don’t think he speaks to many clubs.
“I don’t speak to any clubs and my only focus is finding the best possible solution with the council. We have had positive discussions.
“There was some mistrust that we have cleared. We have had open decisions.
“We have discussed numbers and we have brought in consultants. We are discussing everything about the stadium and the area around, and what that area could be.”
He added: “I have had good discussions with Dan Jarvis, Shokat (Lal, the council’s chief executive), Sir Steve (Houghton, the council’s leader).
“The goal is to stay at Oakwell. We want to find the best way to co-operate and for Barnsley to stay in Barnsley.
“Even in the worst case scenario, we have seven years left on the lease at Oakwell.”