The Case for Safe Standing in Football

On Tuesday 11th December the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Safe Standing Campaign visited Parliament to showcase our plans to MPs, football industry figures, police and journalists through The Case for Safe Standing in Football. The event received a great deal of media coverage and, significantly, prompted real engagement from senior police officers on the subject of standing at football.

You can listen to the entire event via the Soundcloud audio link below:

Senior Police Officer Speaks Out For Standing

One of the day's key contributions came from matchday commander Supt Steven Graham of West Midlands Police who spoke on our panel. Supt Graham proposes that fans should have a choice to sit or stand and doesn’t believe that standing necessarily leads to disorder. While he was keen to make clear that he doesn’t speak for all matchday commanders he boasts more than 20 years' experience of policing football matches and is the operational lead for the policing of football in his region.

He told the audience: “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.

“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 [Sheffield Wednesday’s Chris Kirland] 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.”

Supt Graham said that you could make standing “fundamentally safe” and backed a trial of safe standing areas. This was echoed by Aston Villa’s Brian Doogan who said there was “almost unanimous support for the type of trial that the FSF is advocating”. The club, fans and police in West Midlands are all in agreement – Villa Park is ripe for a trial.

Supt Graham said: “As they say - In God We Trust, everyone else bring data. We have very little experience of what standing looks like in the 21st century, in football grounds in the UK. I’m delighted Villa aren’t proposing to tear up the entire Holte End and make it all standing, what they’re saying is we’ve identified an area of the ground where they can trial it. That’s what we need to do, gather some data so we, as an industry, can make informed decisions and give supporters the best possible experience.”

ACPO's Position

Bryan Drew of the UK Football Policing Unit also attended the event and said: “The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is very happy to engage in this discussion and this debate. ACPO need to be convinced that this change would enhance safety and security. I can assure you there is an ongoing discussion among police commanders and ACPO colleagues about this issue.”

This is a positive development and the FSF will contact ACPO and all other stakeholders to outline the case for a trial of safe standing areas.

While misconceptions around standing still prevail, neither the Government nor police claim that standing is inherently unsafe. The post-Hillsborough Taylor Report did not blame standing for the disaster which was caused by appalling police failures, stadium mismanagement and fences.

In the words of event Chair Roger Godsiff MP: “The report which came out earlier this year [the Hillsborough Independent Panel report] showed quite clearly that standing was not the cause of the Hillsborough tragedy. The cause was incompetent police officers, bad stewarding, too many people in the Leppings Lane entrance and those terrible fences which stopped people being able to escape on to the pitch.

Mr Godsiff said that while campaigners had to be “very mindful and respectful of what happened and respectful of the victims’ families” the Hillsborough Independent Panel report had “completely opened up the issue again”. He also pointed to Germany as an example of a country that has safely managed standing areas.

The MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath is a long time backer of safe standing and his recently tabled Early Day Motion (EDM) 573 calls for the introduction of pilot safe standing areas in the Premier League and Championship. The FSF fully supports this motion and we need as many fans as possible to get their MPs to sign EDM 573. The more MPs who do, the more likely the Government will listen and act. Do your bit here.

An ever-growing number of clubs back safe standing and survey-after-survey shows the overwhelming majority of fans do too. Everyone benefits as those who wish to stand can do so without causing problems for stewards while those who prefer to sit no longer have to worry about having their view blocked.

However, the Government has made it clear that the police have a big say in this and that is why engagement with matchday commanders and ACPO is so important. The Government says it needs “compelling evidence… from all the relevant authorities, including the police” before it will approve safe standing areas. Their concerns centre round disorder and security rather than the possibility of another Hillsborough-like disaster.

However, standing can and does provide a safe and controlled environment for fans in League One, League Two, and beyond. Match-going fans know that much tension at football stems from the efforts of stewards to force fans to sit down, creating an ‘us against them’ mentality. The FSF believes that a safe standing trial would offer receptive clubs and matchday commanders the opportunity to properly test rail seats in a controlled environment.

Do Female Fans Want The Choice To Stand? Yes!

“One of the arguments put forward [by opponents] is that safe standing discriminates against women,” said panellist Fiona McGee, a researcher and writer who worked on Supporters Direct’s Social Value of Football. She’s also been a Leeds United fan for more than 20 years and follows the club around the country.

“To me and to most women the decision whether or not to sit or to stand at football matches is a matter of personal choice. The argument against introducing safe standing because it somehow discriminates against women football fans I find to be a particularly spurious one.

“I’ve been to Peterborough for the past two seasons and have the choice whether to stand or sit and I always choose to stand. I can’t remember the last time I went away with Leeds and sat down. We always stand - and I prefer to do that - but there are other people who would prefer to sit down and they don’t actually have that choice. To trial safe standing is the only sensible way forward.”

Although the Premier League were represented at the event, they did not contribute. A Premier League spokesperson, however, did tell the BBC: “Since the introduction of all-seater stadia the supporter experience has improved significantly and we have seen more diverse crowds attending Premier League matches, including more women and children.”

The FSF absolutely agrees that football stadiums should be welcoming places for fans of all background, regardless of age, disability, race, sex or any other identifying factor. However, we would dispute the underlying assumption that younger or female supporters do not support safe standing.

85% of female fans who completed the FSF’s 2012 Annual Survey said they backed the choice to sit or stand while one in three actually said they preferred to stand, given the choice. 93% of those who preferred to stand cited “better atmosphere” as a reason for this choice. We believe this data is backed up by experiences in Germany and standing areas in this country, which have historically contained high numbers of women and children.

Peterborough United Chief Executive Bob Symns made a compelling case for safe standing, arguing that the club’s existing standing facilities are “full of men, women, children, youngsters, senior citizens; they just prefer to stand.” Symns offered London Road as a potential venue for a safe standing trial along with Villa Park.

Last Tuesday’s event wasn’t the first appearance of safe standing in a Parliamentary context but it the FSF believes it played an important role in promoting the campaign and supporting Roger Godsiff MP’s EDM 573. Fans should encourage their MPs to sign EDM 573 via this link.

The final word goes to independent safety expert and panellist Professor Steve Frosdick: “Rail seating is a safe design… and in a world of lighter touch regulation it’s wrong of government to prevent clubs making a business and safety case to provide rail seating. The [safe standing] campaigns since 2004 have tilled the ground, Don Foster’s 15-minute Bill sowed the seed and I hope that Roger Godsiff’s Early Day Motion will see a harvest for this just cause.”

The FSF would like to thank everyone who attended this event which also heard valuable contributions from Kate Hoey MP, John Leech MP and Paul Goggins MP. Particular thanks must go to the event Chair and panellists (in order of appearance):

  • Roger Godsiff MP (Chair)
  • Brian Doogan (Head of Media, Aston Villa)
  • Bob Symns (Chief Executive, Peterborough United)
  • Fiona McGee (researcher and writer)
  • Professor Steve Frosdick (independent safety expert)
  • Superintendent Steven Graham (West Midlands Police Force)