Football: Libero: Standing room only as the Task Force move in

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The Independent Online
THIS week the Government's Football Task Force alights in Birmingham on the third leg of its 10-city talk-in programme designed to canvass regional opinion about the state of the game. If the Second City is anything like the first two cases, the issue of standing at matches will dominate.

The Task Force's remit includes racism and commercialism but not a return to limited terracing. Indeed its members, chaired by David Mellor, have been disappointed that the subject appears to be the one most on fans' minds. But supporters will not be fobbed off by the agenda of those in authority.

In Leicester a few weeks ago, many persisted with calls to be allowed to stand again even when the Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, insisted that there was no possibility of a Labour government repealing the all- seating law that followed Lord Justice Taylor's report into the Hillsborough disaster - though the problem there was fencing rather than terracing. There is no public sympathy for the idea - quite the reverse, Banks insisted.

One wonders if standing up, as was repeated at the Task Force's Manchester forum, really is at the heart of the present mood, which has become heated there because of the insistence at Old Trafford that people sit down, on pain of ejection. Could it be that the issue is more a focus of discontent with the atmosphere within grounds and around the game these days?

Such is the enormous interest in the game now that the more traditional fans, once the main sponsors before huge television and commercial deals, now feel resentful of a johnny-come- lately type of supporter. Such is the changing profile of crowds that the geography of grounds has changed. In the old days, if you wanted to chant, you stood behind a goal while the seats offered a more considered experience. Now, the shouters are spread out rather than concentrated, something which appeases neither type of supporter.

The rawness of some chanting can upset sections of the ground, who sit in silence. Alex Ferguson has said at Old Trafford that these days the team sometimes has to lift the fans rather than the other way around. In addition, the wonderful look of many stadiums is not matched by the reality. Seats are quite often crammed and views limited, forcing people to stand. Then there is the cost. It is easy to believe that paying so much for a ticket entitles you to do what you want, to the chagrin of those who don't want you to do it.

There is clearly no simple answer that will appeal to all. Cheaper "chanting" seats set apart, maybe? One thing is certain: rather than dismissing the idea of standing as not part of the remit, as the Government and the Task Force would prefer, perhaps they can come up with suggestions for returning sections of the ground to the more nostalgically earthy experience that some fans are seeking.

GRAHAM KELLY'S hopes that the misconduct cases of Nottingham Forest, Brian Clough, Ronnie Fenton and Steve Burtenshaw resulting from the Premier League's bungs inquiries would be dealt with this month have turned out to be somewhat optimistic. When they were charged more than three weeks ago, they were given the usual 14 days to request personal hearings. The FA's chief executive then believed that it would be a fortnight more before the hearings took place. The proliferating lawyers in football have other ideas, however, and the FA now say that although they are ready, it will be "at least two months" before the legal eagles are. Fancy that.

IT WAS curious to hear the attendance figure announced at Wembley in midweek for the England match as 65,000 when an hour before kick-off, the public address system was telling those outside that the game was sold out, the same message that radio had been carrying all day. Wembley's version is that of the remaining 10,000 places, almost half that number had to be set aside to segregate Chile's fans. It was decided that the other 5,000 would not be enough to satisfy the "walk-up" demand on the day if it was announced there were still tickets available, and the stadium was advised by police that having closed ticket sales at 9pm on Tuesday, they should not then re-open.

Leaving aside the tedious old chestnuts of an economy with the truth and the police running football, surely there should be some better system so that people who might otherwise have been able to see the match are not denied an opportunity? Not to mention the question of revenue being lost to the game.