The Premier League had a meeting last week and one of the topics up for discussion was “Safe Standing”. The decision made after the talks was that there to be no decision made at this stage and there would be further talks.
Now, on the face of it, that does look like a classic FA fudge – and certainly there was a degree of rather frothy and pointless management speak in the response of FA Chief Exec Martin Glenn, who said: “We’ll work with the whole game to come up with an aligned point of view”, but then in fairness this one is a tricky issue to deal with.
There has been some talk about returning to standing in some areas of grounds for a few years now, and it is interesting how the debate has shifted. From a starting point where it was just few campaigners and activists rather being drowned out, it is now thought that most of the Premier League teams are at least open to installing some standing at their grounds.
One top club in Britain already has. Celtic have added 3,000 safe standing places at Parkhead (pictured) and it is important to realise exactly what this means. Each of these places has a rail in front (and a flip up seat which would be locked for domestic matches) and the success of the Glasgow trial is being looked at by other clubs.
Such standing areas (and other models, all of which can be seen on the Football Fans Federation (FSF) website) have been in use in Germany for years, but any switch back to standing must be treated with great sensitivity in the UK, because as Glenn observed last week: “We have had Hillsborough and they [Germany] have not.”
All seater stadia were brought in after the Taylor Report, which looked at the causes of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. That 96 football supporters went to a match and never went home is a point that should never, ever be forgotten. It remains a terrible stain on not just English football, but also society, that stadiums were left in were such a state. people meant so little they were herded like cattle and were then the subject disgraceful lies – which became fact – because it suited the government of the day and their agenda. But those times are not now.
One senior Hillsborough campaigner said that she if we made the return to safe standing she “didn’t want to be around long enough to say I told you so” and that is a valid argument, however we are coming to a time where we simply have to do something.
Watch any game on tv and you’ll see people standing in the seats. Go to the match and it becomes a real problem. The split between those who want to stand and those who don’t – or indeed can’t – is not just a potential flashpoint as fans argue on one side or the other, but it is also leading to other issues.
There have been instances of cuts, bruises and worse at games. I was at a game last season when a woman had a nasty fall after a goal was scored and needed treatment by St Johns Ambulance after being pushed over between some seats, and we are surely reaching a point where we have to let fans who want to stand do so again.
The FSF have backed the return to standing, calling it “a win-win for everyone”, and the clubs and authorities should follow suit.
Ultimately, it will come down to money – like everything else in modern football. Income from the fans in the Premier League is becoming less important to clubs, but it is also true that the fans are ever more vital. This odd paradox comes because the FA, through the Premier League, is pocketing over £8billion in TV revenues in the next three years, and these TV companies want to see full, atmospheric stadiums. If the broadcasters think the atmosphere will be better and give a better televisual experience then we’ll see safe standing return.
On this though, football should take the stand instead of being led by TV.
Andy ThorleyBack to Blog