Why clubs are keen to take a stand
There's a real desire around the grounds for safe standing. But will the authorities listen?
Tuesday 21 May 2013
It was on Valentine's Day that representatives of 22 Championship clubs gathered in the Lineker Suite within Leicester City's King Power Stadium for one of their regular get-togethers. At item six on the agenda was a motion that read: "The Football League would encourage and support the instigation of a rail seat/safe-standing trial period at any League club wishing to run such a trial. This permission would only apply during a new build or stadium redevelopment." It was passed by 21 votes to one.
It is 23 years since, in the wake of the horrors of Hillsborough, the Taylor Report recommended all grounds in the top two tiers of English football should be all-seated; terracing, it concluded, was unsafe and a breeding ground for crowd disturbance.
It was a determination that helped propel the sea change Britain's favourite sport has undergone over the course of the last two decades. Today it is a different game, contested in markedly different stadiums, and the authorities, from Government to police to the Premier League and the Football League, see no reason to tinker with something that – to them at least – is working well.
Yet the Taylor report also called on the game to undertake "more consultation with the supporters and more positive leadership". Today there are two issues consistently raised by supporters. The first is the price of tickets, the second is a desire for a return to standing, and the two are connected. If the latter happens then the former will follow.
Some clubs are listening, and want to cater for their market – there is, of course, a basic commercial reasoning. The swell in support for at least allowing trials of standing areas has quickened over the last couple of years and while there is an expanding number of clubs in the top flight that are broadly supportive, it is at Championship level that it has struck a particular chord.
"The clubs deserve a huge amount of credit for approaching safe standing with an open mind," said Peter Daykin of the Football Supporters' Federation, which is campaigning for safe standing. "More and more people in the football industry realise it's the solution to problems caused by existing legislation and it could certainly enhance fans' match days.
"Six Premier League sides, 16 Football League clubs and the Scottish Premier League already back the campaign, so it's great to hear that Championship clubs back safe standing too. And there's no doubt whatsoever that fans back safe standing."
The FSF runs a roadshow to demonstrate how today's version of terracing – a word the FSF studiously seeks to avoid, given its negative historic links – works. The organisation also sought advice from German counterparts and Bundesliga clubs. Last weekend a group of FSF members were in Dortmund to experience Borussia's 25,000 capacity standing area.
There is minimal chance of such a banking ever being introduced here. Rather, if the required change in law comes about, it would be small sections of rail seating. Aston Villa, the first Premier League club to come out in support, have earmarked a corner of one end for a trial and it is likely clubs would look to have limited shelves within stadiums to accommodate those who wish to stand.
The German model is simple. Each row has a stomach- or chest-high railing, which includes a flip seat that when in use meets Uefa requirements for all-seated stadiums. It is cheap to install, either in a stadium being developed or even in an already built venue. A Championship chief executive whose club play in a modern, all-seated ground told The Independent the club would look to install safe standing were it given the go-ahead. "It won't happen next year," he said, "but give it a few years."
There is due acknowledgement and absolute respect from clubs pushing for trials towards Hillsborough, the family support groups and the on-going issues surrounding the 1989 disaster, but, claim campaigners, this is an utterly different world to the crumbling one of Leppings Lane.
There are other opponents outside Liverpool, notably the Premier League. Despite moves from MPs to push the issue in Parliament, the Government remains opposed to changing the law. Although not absolutely – there is wriggle room. Hugh Robertson, the Sports Minister, has not in the past shied from picking a fight with football, but with the police – with creeping regional exceptions, such as in the West Midlands – set staunchly against he will need some persuading.
The Premier League points simply to increased attendances in the top flight and the increased mix in crowds – the number of women going to games has risen steeply. If it ain't broke…
The number of clubs in the top flight who favour safe standing will rise by three as of next season, but the Premier League is not for changing – a stance the Football League is well aware of. The two Leagues have had recent disagreements over "solidarity" payments – there remains deep-seated unease in the Championship, and below, over the skewing of the playing field by ever-increasing parachute payments.
Some of those pushing for safe standing fear the Football League is picking its battles, and taking on one that would pitch it against steadfast, and powerful, opponents is not high on the to-do list.
"Is there the appetite in the Football League to go and have a disagreement with Government?" wondered a Championship chief executive.
Another was more forthright. "They don't have the balls," he said with a degree of exasperation. "We are not asking to go back to terracing. This is safe. We are only asking for a pilot."
Standing backers: Clubs in favour
Aston Villa have volunteered to host safe-standing trials, while Swansea and Sunderland have spoken in favour. Newcastle are also in favour of a trial. West Ham have suggested a safe-standing area in the Olympic stadium.
All three promoted clubs from the Championship back safe standing: Cardiff City, Hull City and either Crystal Palace or Watford
Peterborough and Bristol City have been enthusiastic supporters. Today Portsmouth became the latest club to support trials.
Aldershot, Barnsley, Brentford, Burnley, Derby County, Doncaster Rovers, Exeter City, Leeds United, Oldham, Plymouth, Shrewsbury, Swindon, Wolves and AFC Wimbledon have also spoken publicly in favour of trials. Twenty-one Championship clubs voted in favour of trials in February, two were absent and one voted against.
Scottish Premier League
Celtic and Aberdeen have discussed staging a trial. The SPL relaxed its rules two years ago but still needs agreement of police and licensing authorities. Standing is not banned in Scotland's top tier as in England.
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