Don Foster: Modern options allow for standing to be safe again

‘Hillsborough was mainly down to sheer overcrowding and a culture of general neglect, not fans being on their feet’

It has been 20 years since Lord Justice Taylor recommended that standing be abolished at matches in the top two leagues. There were plenty of good reasons: there had been a run of disastrous incidents at football matches, of which the tragedy at Hillsborough, where almost 100 died and many more were injured, was the worst.

Clearly, a complete culture shift was long overdue, and seats came with all kinds of benefits. Like rows of barriers, they would prevent surges in the crowd. By giving each spectator their own little space, seats were more comfortable and stopped jostling. They made it easier for organisers to control numbers, easier to identify troublemakers.

But introducing seats was not meant to deal with the key reason for the tragedy at Hillsborough. For Taylor, the disaster was mainly down to sheer overcrowding, underpinned by a general culture of neglect. It didn't happen because spectators were on their feet.

I am not calling for a re-introduction of the old-style terraces. But today there are options for safe forms of standing which provide the same benefits which Taylor said came from seating. Modern safe standing means each spectator gets their own spot (and often a flip-down seat so stadiums can be used for international and European games). Modern standing areas have barriers between rows to prevent surges. Such areas have been in use in Germany for many years and are popular and successful. There have been no problems at Bundesliga matches; just a legendarily energetic atmosphere.

Taylor expected football fans would get used to sitting. But the thousands still standing every weekend, and the long-running campaigns to reverse the ban, prove that he got this wrong.

His report was a call for clubs to take more care of their fans, and for the match-day experience to become safer as a result. After the dark day at Hillsborough, the Taylor report was a critical step forward for the game. It is now time for football and its regulators to take another step forward by listening to fans, looking at the modern options available, and letting football lovers enjoy games on their feet.

Don Foster is the Lib Dem MP for Bath