Euro 2016 shows standing ban is not the answer

Croatian player told off for touching flair action images 4814335

In the second of a two-part series looking at safe standing and the European Championships in France, Jon Darch examines the myth of all-seaters tackling hooliganism...

"That’s the gate that’s been forced: there’s been an inrush."

The now infamous words of Ch Supt Duckinfield on the afternoon of 15th April 1989. On the 16th, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, Bernard Ingham, describes Liverpool fans as a "tanked up mob" and UEFA President Jacques Georges brands them "beasts waiting to charge into the arena."

On the 18th, less than 48 hours after the Hillsborough Disaster, against this backdrop of blaming hooliganism, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd says in a House of Commons statement: "The Government believe that the future of football in this country lies in a national membership scheme in designated grounds and now, it seems, also in providing all-seated accommodation at major football clubs."

Even before Lord Justice Taylor had begun his work, the Thatcher government had decided that the cause of Hillsborough was hooliganism and that the solution was all-seater stadia.

Now wind the clock forward 27 years. The notion that hooliganism caused Hillsborough has been thoroughly discredited. It did not. The inquests have legally proved that it.

Yet a ban on standing predicated on that discredited assumption remains in place. It’s a bad smell. A lingering insult. Still implying that all football spectators would become rabid hooligans if permitted to stand.

What’s more, across the Channel in France events at Euro 2016 have shown categorically that the all-seater concept does not stop a small number of malevolent, violent members of society from associating themselves with the sport and bringing hooligan behaviour into football grounds.

All-seater stadia were not the answer to hooliganism in 1989. And they are not the answer in 2016.

Four years ago, speaking to MPs at Westminster, the matchday commander of West Midlands Police, Supt Steven Graham, said: "If you put a decent person on a terrace, they’re a decent person. If you put someone with criminal intent in a seated area, they’re someone with criminal intent who may misbehave. To say that just because you put someone in a standing area, they will misbehave, is fundamentally wrong."

He was speaking shortly after incidents in which a coin had been thrown at Rio Ferdinand and, at another match, a spectator had encroached onto the pitch and assaulted goalkeeper Chris Kirkland.

Supt Graham said of those incidents: "The person who threw the coin at Rio Ferdinand threw it from a seated area. The person who jumped on the ground at Hillsborough and assaulted the goalkeeper did so from a seated area. It wasn’t the fact they were in terraces that made them behave like that. They behaved like that because they’re morons. They behaved like that because they’re criminals."

The same can surely be said of the hooligans among the Russian followers in Marseille who attacked a neighbouring block of spectators or the followers of the Croatian national side who through flares onto the pitch.

It wasn’t the seats that made them do that. It was their own inherent malicious intent. And the lack of standing accommodation didn’t magically change their character. They went to the ground with misconduct in mind and once inside they did as they had always planned. The all-seater nature of the ground did not stop them.

They should, however, have been stopped. Before entering the respective grounds. And questions must be asked about the French policing and stewarding procedures that failed to do this. Indeed, it is good policing and stewarding that stops hooligans, not the whether a football ground does or does not offer spectators an option to stand.

In the UK the general absence for many years now of scenes such as we saw at some of the early Euro 2016 games has been due not to all-seater stadia. Such hooliganism is now a thing of the distant past at grounds that retain standing areas as well.

No, it has been down to the good work of the police, hugely improved stewarding, supporter liaison and widespread use of CCTV.

If there is any good at all to come from the violence inside some grounds at Euro 2016, it is that it made clear once again that dialogue with fans, advance intelligence, good policing, well trained stewards and modern CCTV are the way to keep society’s malevolent few out of our stadia, not a now wholly discredited ban on allowing peaceable fans to stand.

That’s one thing that Euro 2016 has made abundantly clear… another is that it’s high time to provide safer seating for standing fans.

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.