Aston Villa have offered to act as a guinea pig for the return of standing at matches in the Premier League. Villa yesterday became the first top flight club to back a campaign by supporters groups for the introduction of safe-standing areas.
The Football Supporters Federation have been lobbying for the use of standing areas as practised in the Bundesliga for over two years and the public backing of Villa is a notable boost, even though it remains a long way from becoming a reality.
Roger Godsiff, MP for Birmingham Hall Green, tabled an early day motion this month calling on the government to alter the law as it stands under the Football Supporters Act 1989 - brought in in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy - and allow limited trials of safe-standing areas. Villa would be willing to host any such trial.
"We have had a number of good discussions and meetings with the FSF over the past 12 months and fully support their campaign to allow small-scale trials of safe standing areas at grounds," said Paul Faulkner, Villa's chief executive. "Whenever we have discussed the topic with our fans we've found almost unanimous support for such a trial, and the concept of giving fans the choice to decide to either sit or stand at a game. We believe Villa Park could be a potential venue for such a trial, and would like the opportunity to progress the plans further with the wider support of the football community in this country."
The model is based on that used in Germany and is very different to the large terraces that were once a feature of British grounds. Two years ago the issue was debated in Parliament with the government declining to offer its support and there remains little appetite among the authorities for a change. The Premier League are also against the idea - they believe there is scant support among its members. The Hillsborough Family Support Group is also resolutely opposed to the reintroduction of standing at matches in this country.
Peter Daykin, safe standing coordinator at the FSF, said: "For two decades since the Taylor Report, the overwhelming majority of football supporters have favoured a choice of standing and sitting at football, and fans continue to stand throughout all levels of the game today, even in the Premier League and Championship where it is against ground regulations and facilities are designed for sitting.
"Standing was outlawed on grounds of safety, and yet successive governments have agreed that standing is safe - it's hard not to when it is done perfectly safely every week at rugby grounds, lower league football grounds and in top football leagues all around the world."
Peterborough United have also offered to stage trials.