Monday, 8 August 2011

New season kicks-off with further demands for safe standing at matches

Football fans at the start of the new season are being urged to support a campaign that aims to re-introduce standing areas in Stadiums. This would legalise a practice that hundreds of thousands already engage in every weekend, fans of away sides, in particular, rarely sitting down at Premier League matches. In October Manchester United fans are faced with having their ticket allocation cut by a third for the match at Liverpool following ‘persistent standing’ at previous encounters.

The Football Supporters’ Federation [FSF] safe standing campaign has been around for a number of years. Its opponents include the Premier League as well as the Hillsborough Family Support Group. This represents families of some of 96 Liverpool fans killed at the home of Sheffield Wednesday in April 1989. Its chairwoman Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James was amongst the victims, has said: “We just believe there’s no such thing as safe standing in this country and our football clubs should remain all-seater stadiums.”

However the campaign has been given a major boost after Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster’s private member's bill supporting safe standing was tabled for a second reading in the House of Commons in November. This follows last year’s signing of an Early Day Motion by 145 MPs calling for a reopening of the debate on Safe Standing.

And now with The Independent newspaper also backing Foster the FSF, said spokesperson Michael Brunskill, are “Aiming to get large numbers of fans to contact their local MP and urge s/he to back the bill. Plenty have told us they are in favour and we want to remind them that many fans want to legally stand at games.” 

Foster himself is keen to stress that he isn’t calling for a return to the  “appalling old terraces, or the culture of ignorance and complacency that led to Hillsborough. Lord Taylor’s report concluded that the direct cause of the disaster was gross overcrowding. He recommended all-seater stadia not because standing was to blame, but because seats aid crowd control.

Seats, by their very nature, impose a cap on numbers, provide individual spaces for individual fans, provide barriers between rows to prevent crowd surges and make it easier to identify troublemakers. The modern standing areas I am calling for incorporate these very same features.” 

In a demonstration of what facilities would be like if Foster’s bill becomes law a Safe Standing Roadshow has been touring parts of the country and was on display at the FSF public meeting in June in Liverpool where according to Brunskill “it was, despite some robust debate, generally well received.” 

Fans regularly stand safely at matches including Bradford City's at the Carling Cup game
with Leeds United on August 9th
At a similar public meeting a month earlier at Molineux, where thousands persistently stand at games, the FSF were promised ‘meaningful negotiations’ by Wolverhampton Wanderers chief executive Jez Moxey. Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis has also told his own supporters he was “open” to the possibility of safe standing areas at the Emirates Stadium. None of which will be possible if MPs refuse to back Foster and amongst those who have shown no desire to do so is Sports Minister Hugh Robertson.

Foster doesn’t though appear too downhearted saying “The Bill has drawn attention to safe standing, opened a debate and challenged misconceptions. It’s only one part of a wider push to create mass support. If we can demonstrate the broad demand for standing that is out there, the football authorities and the Government will have to engage.”

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