Safe standing at football grounds: “an idea whose time has come,” say Lib Dems

by Stephen Tall on August 23, 2014

I can still remember my first ever live football match. It was a glamorous encounter between Everton and Newport County in the second round of the League Cup on 24th September 1986. A big part of what made it memorable was the electric atmosphere of the Gwladys Street stand at Goodison Park. I was nine, so everything seemed huge but the big scousers around me, shouting and cheering, made sure I could always get a good view of what was happening on the pitch.

I was reminded of all this by the headline in the The Mirror yesterday reporting Lib Dem plans to allow football clubs to introduce ‘safe standing’ areas at grounds:

mirror safe standing

Fans would be allowed to stand at top-flight football matches under plans put forward by the Liberal Democrats. The party has pledged to bring back standing areas at Premiership and Championship grounds. All-seater stadia were introduced more than 20 years ago after the Taylor report into the Hillsborough disaster which killed 96 Liverpool fans. But the return of safe standing areas is backed by 92% of fans and the majority of Football League clubs, who claim it would create a better atmosphere. The Lib Dems’ general election manifesto will contain a commitment to allow clubs to introduce Euro-style “rail seating”.

Manchester Withington MP John Leech has backed the move:

“The Liberal Democrats believe football clubs should be allowed to introduce safe standing areas where there is a desire to do so. Safe standing is allowed in many other sports and we do not believe that the top level of football should be an exception.

“We are not calling for a return of the terraces of the 1980s. Modern safe standing areas using ‘rail seating’ operate very successfully in top tier football across Europe. When clubs & fans are in favour of safe standing and it can be done safely, then the Government shouldn’t get in the way. That is why Liberal Democrats want to change the law to let clubs introduce safe standing.

“Safe standing offers supporters more choice, a better atmosphere and cheaper tickets. It is an idea whose time has come and I am proud that it is the Liberal Democrats who are the first political party to commit to delivering this.”

The party has also issued a handy guide to how safe standing can be introduced without going back to the bad old days of over-crowding and crushing:

Options

There are several options for safe standing areas. The most commonly used one, and the one most likely to be used in the UK, is ‘rail seating’, a system where a safety barrier and flip down seat is equipped on every other row or step, so the areas can be changed from seats to standing areas depending on the event requirements. Rail seats also mean that clubs playing in Europe, where UEFA require all seater stadiums, could convert to seating if required.

Bristol City have recently installed rail seating at Ashton Gate which will be used for standing at rugby & seating at football. You can read more about rail seating here: http://www.safestandingroadshow.co.uk/home

Safe Standing Facts

Safe standing areas improve the atmosphere and contribute to a better match day experience. When asked in a recent poll by the Football Supporters’ Federation, over 70% of fans stated that they liked to stand because it created a better atmosphere. – http://www.fsf.org.uk/campaigns/safe-standing/safe-standing-facts/#BENEFITS

The majority of football fans want the choice. Some fans like to stand, some fans prefer to sit, we want to give all fans the choice. And we have the backing of supporters with nine out of ten fans wanting to be given the choice according to the Football Supporters Federation http://www.fsf.org.uk/campaigns/safe-standing/why-does-the-fsf-back-safe-standing/

Allowing clubs to introduce safe standing areas gives them more flexibility and could lead to a reduction in ticket prices. Watching football is expensive. Safe standing areas allow clubs to accommodate a higher density of supporters safely which can mean cheaper ticket prices for all. In both England and abroad ticket prices for standing areas are typically lower than in seated areas making the stadiums more socially inclusive. For example, standing tickets at Bayern Munich begin as low as £150 – http://www.fsf.org.uk/campaigns/safe-standing/safe-standing-facts/

Legislation

This change requires no new primary legislation, but simply requires an amendment to the Football Spectators Act 1989.

The rules governing sporting grounds are covered by the Sports Ground Safety Authority. This change to safe standing would apply to clubs in England and Wales.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.