Bristol City Football Club Supporters Trust

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Stand up and be heard

By Jon Darch

This coming Sunday (September 9th) fans from all over the country will converge on Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park for 'Safe Standing Day', as the campaign for the introduction of areas for safe standing at English football grounds gathers pace.  Now is the time to stand up and be heard!

No swaying masses - Safe standing!
The campaign has the full backing of Wycombe’s Managing Director, who says that he himself prefers to stand to watch his team rather than sit in the directors' box, all suited and booted. 

As the game is live on Sky TV and the club has also invited 145 MPs to attend, it’s an ideal opportunity for all in favour of safe standing at football to show your support for this campaign.

The current situation is just so illogical that reason will surely win the day in the end. Take for example, the inconsistent ground regulations that apply for differing events at the same venue.  At Ashton Gate this summer, for instance, rock fans were again dancing in the aisles throughout the Meatloaf concert.  Over the summer, The Who, Elton John and George Michael also had crowds on their feet at Swansea City, Plymouth Argyle and Norwich City respectively.  Many football fans were no doubt amongst them, yet when they go to a match at these venues such enthusiasm is banned.

Where is the logic in allowing standing in the grandstands at concerts, but banning it in the self same stands at football?

A dream? - New East End, lower tier?
There is none!  Yet that is the directive given to clubs by the Football Licensing Authority.  Fans can stand at concerts - and at rugby games or any other event held in football grounds - but not at football.  It’s the nanny state gone mad!

Many nowadays bemoan the lack of atmosphere at football games and the emergence of the ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade.  Following Liverpool’s televised Champions League semi-final against Chelsea last season, our own club implored fans to create ‘an Anfield atmosphere’ at Ashton Gate.  Yet the fans at Anfield were standing, ignoring ground regulations en bloc to cheer their side to victory.  Indeed, standing is a prerequisite for a hearty rendition of any song!  Or do church choirs and opera singers perform sitting down? 

Turning the clocks back to the days of huge terraces such as the Kop, the Stretford End or even Ashton Gate’s more modest East End is, however, not an option.  Large terraces with crumbling steps and only intermittent barriers clearly fall short of today’s safety standards.  As does standing behind low-backed seats.  Yet a blind eye is turned to this at grounds (such as Anfield) all around the country, while at others (like Ashton Gate) stewards fight a never-ending battle trying to get enthusiastic fans to sit down.  There has to be another way.

Specially designed 'at-seat' standing areas
The answer lies in having designated areas specifically designed for fans who prefer to stand.  Ah, you may say, but that requires a change in primary legislation.  And that’s where you’d be wrong.  The law requires all grounds in the top two divisions to be all-seater.  It does NOT stipulate that everyone has to sit down.  That is a directive cobbled together by the Football Licensing Authority, the relevant leagues and local authorities.  It is ultimately based on advice from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – not on an Act of Parliament.  A change of mind by one person could thus at a stroke see safe standing permitted in all-seater grounds with no need for a change in the law. 

So what would such ‘safe standing’ areas in all-seater stadia look like?  Well, not like the old terraces, that’s for sure.  These would be areas with seats, which are nevertheless designed for safe standing. In such designs (used extensively in Germany and Austria, as per the photos on this page) each row incorporates a continuous, waist-high handrail.  Fans in such designated standing areas can thus fold back their seat and stand in full safety, supporting themselves by resting their hands on the rail in front.  Meanwhile fans in all other parts of the ground are not obstructed by people persistently standing in front of them.  This is not a return to terracing with swaying masses of fans.  Instead there would be a barrier along every row.  It would enable those fans that are so keen to do so to stand in safety and ‘sing their hearts out for the lads’!

No law change required - A change of mind by one MP can allow this tomorrow

Such areas have existed in Germany for years.  To introduce such areas here requires no change in the law.  It simply requires the Football Licensing Authority to give it the green light.  It is high time they did so.  It would make at-seat standing much safer than it currently is behind low-backed plastic seats, it would do away with the current anomalies that see different rules applied for different events at the same venue and it would help bring back to the country’s football grounds the true atmosphere of the beautiful game!

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You can support this campaign by attending the Safe Standing Day at Wycombe Wanderers this Sunday, by backing the Stand Up Sit Down campaign and by writing to your local MP.

Stand up and be heard!

PS - When talking to anyone about this, remember:

  • We're NOT talking about "a return to terracing"
  • No politician will ever agree to go 'backwards'
  • This is a progressive, forwards move
  • Every standing space has its own barrier
  • It makes inevitable - and desirable - standing at football safer
  • It removes a major headache for stewards and police
  • It gives fans their democratic right to choose to sit or stand
  • It improves atmosphere
  • It has no negative effect on ground capacity
  • It can be configured to increase ground capacity
  • It's what large numbers of football's 'customers' want!

 

The views expressed in this 'Soapbox' section are those of the author of each article and do not necessarily reflect those of the Bristol City Supporters Trust

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