Finally calls for Safe Standing to be introduced in Britain appear to have gathered momentum this week. Welsh Conservative leader Andrew Davies, with the support of the FSF, took the debate to the Welsh Assembly on Monday morning outlining the numerous reasons why it’s time for football supporters to be given the option to stand or sit like many fans of other sports. The long shadow of Hillsborough has loomed large for too long when it comes to supporters standing or sitting. Now is the time for the facts to be made clear to avoid every argument proposing safe standing to be rebuffed with “But Hillsborough…”. Of course the Hillsborough disaster was a terrible incident that has affected all those who have lived through its memory, not just Liverpool fans but all football supporters. Nobody can suggest a return to the crumbling old terraces that football fans were reduced to in the 1980s today and nor can anyone suggest that what took place on that fateful April Sunday was anything but a national tragedy. But the blame game against standing has to stop now. It is time to move on.
Perhaps the most common misconception of the Hillsborough argument is that standing was the reason for the loss of 96 lives. This is simply not true. The main reason for the sorry events on that fateful day in 1989 was that the police allowed far too many supporters to enter the terrace and the number of spaces simply did not supply the demand. The decision to only allow entry through seven turnstiles created severe overcrowding and when far too many people entered the stand their was simply no room to move. This led to the terrible scenes of the crush barrier breaking, fans falling on top of each other and consequently the loss of 96 lives. The 1990 Taylor report into the disaster recommended (although Taylor stressed it was not vital) a move away from standing at major stadiums despite admitting that the reason for the events of April 15th were poor police control above all else. Furthermore it is reckoned that had 41 of the 96 fatalities received adequate medical treatment there deaths may have been avoided. The evidence found from more than twenty-five years of looking at what went wrong has resulted in the simple fact that standing was not to blame. If the police had admitted the correct number of supporters into the Leppings Lane stand then the disaster would not have took place.
There are a number of recommendations in the Taylor report that did not become law, something which is often overlooked. For instance Taylor suggested that standing areas should be outlawed in all sports but instead they still exists today with Rugby the most famous example. As mentioned earlier Taylor even suggested that standing was not vitally unsafe yet the government of the day pushed ahead with all seater stadiums. Then in 1992 the Government decided that stadiums in League One or Two did not require all seater stadiums. Now, quite why it is alright to stand at a League One game but not at a Championship game is beyond me. Do the authorities believe that supporters of Championship clubs are more likely to cause trouble? We currently have a bizarre situation where a club that gets promoted to the Championship must remove its standing areas within three seasons of Championship football. So a club must pay significant amounts of money to implement seats, and lose a significant part of the stadium’s atmosphere in the process, as a reward for gaining promotion and stabilising as a Championship club. Or we have the situation with Bristol City where they are hoping to build rail seats in their new stand but will only be allowed to use the rail space for standing when the rugby is being played at Ashton Gate. This basically says rugby supporters can be trusted to stand at a match but football supporters cannot.
So we have established that the reasons for the Hillsborough disaster were not standing but a range of external factors such as poor police control, crumbling stadiums and a failure to provide medical attention to those in the aftermath. We can also see that the current situation is not tenable, as much as the government may like to think it is. I honestly am yet to hear a suitable reason not to allow Safe Standing to be implemented. On Monday the Sports Ground Safety Authority sent out a statement in reply to the Welsh Conservative’s declaration of support for Safe Standing. This statement, extremely short in length, acknowledges the Conservative position but questions how the standing will be managed by stewards. A fair comment although a quick look at how the model works in Germany should provide the answer. However the most worrying part of the statement was the suggestion that, “some fans may prefer to stand , our view is that seating is generally safer” now anyone who has celebrated an important goal in a seating area knows the perils of injuries sustained through celebration in the tight area between your seat and the person in front’s seat. How this authority can suggest that standing in a seating area is safer than standing in a standing area is beyond me especially when you look at the number of incidents that have occurred in Germany’s safe standing areas. Princely zero incidents. Finally the statement concludes by saying that seating creates, “a more inclusive and diverse environment”. The evidence for this seems to be that when terracing did exist in all of British football the majority of people who went to games were white working class males of any age group whereas now football stadiums reflect everyone in society such as more women, people from ethnic minorities etc. However this fails to recognise the climate that terracing was taking place in with sexism and racism fairly widespread. I cannot see why a return to standing would suddenly reduce the diversity of people in a stadium. Nobody is suggesting that the whole stadium gets turned into safe standing, those who enjoy sitting down will still have the opportunity to do so. If anything the very people who supposedly filled the stadiums pre-Hillsborough, the working class, are in danger of extinction at football matches should ticket prices continue to rise. There is a belief that the Taylor report resembled the moment where football decided to leave its core support behind that had blighted the game by hooliganism and attempt to engage with the middle classes. Alas that is a debate for a different day, the facts remain there is no reason that I can see why Safe Standing should not be implemented in a section of every football ground in Britain should the supporters want it.
Atmosphere is declining and ticket prices are rising at the highest level. The answer is simple. Introduce Safe Standing.