Sports Minister Hugh Robertson has said he is willing to listen to the evidence about standing at top-flight football matches. This is a major win for football supporter groups such as the Football Supporters’ Federation who have been calling for years for fans to have the choice to watch football from a safe standing area. I support them, and I pleased that it is finally moving forward. I worry however, that this process will be derailed by wrongly connecting these moves to the tragic deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough in 1989. By making this connection you miss the reality of the disaster and the reality of modern safe standing.
The Taylor report, written 21 years ago concluded that the Hillsborough disaster was caused by overcrowding, poor policing methods and stadium layout – not standing. I agree that these lessons have to be learnt to ensure a scene like the one we saw on the 15th April 1989, must never be repeated, but we have to move the debate on from Hillsborough and begin to look at the reality for fans around the world.
There are multiple modern examples where standing in top flight football happens without incidence. Some of Europe’s most modern stadia, such as the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Germany and the Tivoli Stadium in Innsbruck, Austria, feature standing accommodation for domestic fixtures. No one would suggest that the German and Austrian authorities are being irresponsible by allowing this.
Equally, in lower league football fans are allowed to stand (in line with very stringent safety standards). At rock concerts fans are allowed to stand. At rugby league and union games fans are allowed to stand. At horse racing, dog racing, tennis matches, ice hockey games fans are allowed to stand. Our house of commons is designed to make some MP’s stand, and yet we feel as though football fans in the top flights should not be allowed.
Some argue why “risk” changing what we have when it works? I would argue what we have does not work. Every week up and down the country fans stand in front of their seats for entire games. Continued attempts to stamp out the practice have failed; this results in those wishing to sit, (the old for example) having their experience of the game wrecked by having their views blocked. The logical conclusion is to separate off the two strands of supporters so they both remain happy – offer a seated and a standing alternative.
Momentum is now building behind this campaign. Don Foster MP who has been a long supporter of safe standing has successfully tabled a 10 minuet bill on the issue and it is due for a second reading on 17th June 2011. After a successful meeting with the Sports Minister it looks like there is a chance to move forward with this campaign. The FSF have organised a petition in support that I would urge you to sign. It is up to us to show there is a real appetite for this move.
The only thing that stands in our way is the emotive and irrational link with the Hillsborough disaster. The Liverpool Echo was filled with emotive articles that opposed the introduction of standing areas. Kenny Dalglish, has said he opposes safe standing describing Don Foster’s Bill as a “huge insult”. Liverpool supporter forums have equally predictable arguments.
I would suggest that linking Hillsborough to this new Bill, which aims to introduce something very different to what we saw in the terraces at in the late 80’s is paying the dead the biggest disservice. The Hillsborough Family Support Group could, and indeed should be playing a role in this process to ensure that all the lessons have been learnt. They cannot do this for as long as they blindly oppose any form of standing at football stadia.
We must pay the ultimate respect to those who died and have had their lives irreversibly damaged by the disaster by being able to move on.