Published on April 10th, 2018 | by Bill

Feet first: Government’s stationary stance on safe standing is classist, undemocratic & dangerous.

Coventry vs. Northampton in the Cup. A goal goes in for the Cobblers and a young away fan trips over the shin height seat in front during the celebrations and falls two rows down, hitting an old lady. She sits dazed and injured, while bystanders try to comfort her and help the lad back up. It was no fault of the young fan, brought forward by the slightest momentum in cheering a goal with a plastic trip hazard waiting to bring him down. 

Written for STAND, by Tom Reed

These problematic scenes have been repeated in stadia up and down the country due to all-seater regulations and yet the government refuses to change its stance to allow safe standing via rail seating in all four divisions of English football. It’s called safe standing for a reason, extensively tested and in situ with great success at Celtic FC in Scotland and all over the continent. There is no reasonable argument against it so the Department Of Culture Media and Sport trot out their old tired line of ‘no change’ without proper explanation.

This is the state of affairs in the modern game, where an industry revolves around cashing in on fans and their culture but with a government seemingly not prepared to guarantee their safety.

This week, the Departure for Culture, Media and Sport responded to West Bromwich Albion’s proposal for 3,600 rail seat spaces in the Smethwick End by stating “We have no plans to change our position and introduce standing accommodation at grounds in the top two divisions covered by the all-seater policy.”

This is Premier League West Brom, not some two-bit non-league outfit we’re talking about. “I think the minister has taken a short-sighted view and is preventing the club from creating a safer environment for supporters” said the club’s Director of Operations Mark Miles.

The cut and paste government response reeks of intransigence and is totally at odds with a modern sport and the people that pay good money to watch it. Normally, after the DCMS’s trademark hand-offs there will be press articles that follow mentioning the Hillsborough disaster, the unlawful killings of 96 supporters in 1989, except that there will be scant reference to the verdict of the 2016 inquests thus having the unfortunate effect of linking the act of standing to danger rather than the terrible impact of the police failures in Sheffield.

But fans have never accepted a tabloid way of thinking. Liverpool supporters, including Hillsborough families and survivors, in a brave and progressive step, recently visited the safe standing area at Celtic Park. Liverpool fans’ union the Spirit of Shankly’s survey of 18,000 fans found that nine out of ten backed safe standing. Theirs is a thoughtful, forward looking approach which is at odds with the stationary stance of the government.

The government make rules on the people’s game but don’t seem too bothered by what the people think. Time and time again surveys return vastly in favour of fans having the choice of safe standing areas and yet Tory Sports Minister Tracey Crouch will not modify how the DCMS exercises powers in reference to legislation. No change in the law is even required.

Already fans are seriously questioning the government’s stance on safe standing which is in use at such illustrious clubs as PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow. In Germany, safe standing rail seats are utilised in the Bundesliga as well as more simple terrace set ups. It is myopic of the UK government then to not green-light the ultra-sanitised rail seating system when the argument against standard terracing is tenuous at best.

Continue in this vein and the government risks fans asking if there is a bigger agenda at play with regards the social demographic of supporters and the gentrification of the game that has come with all seater grounds? Some overdue focus on the class cleansing of working class and poor people from the game that came about after Hillsborough and that is a can of worms the football authorities really don’t want opening.

The 1991 Football Association Blueprint For the Future Of Football, responding to the Taylor Report pointed explicitly to the targeting of the “affluent middle class consumer” with regards the “design of stadia for the future”.

Safe standing has the potential to increase capacity on a ratio of 1.8 standing places to 1 seated place and therefore reduce ticket prices, reviving the solidarity of the demonised “ends” and bringing football’s underclass back into the game.

Small wonder then that fans are asking whether the government, with its coffers boosted by over £2.4 billion a year by the Premier League product has an issue with people standing at football or the type of people that like to stand up at football.

Picture previously supplied by our friends at the @SafeStandingRS

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