Let’s make a stand
There was probably not a single top-flight game played last season in front of an all-seated crowd. Nor will there be this season, despite protests from those who prefer not to stand, interventions from stewards, entreaties over systems and threats from local councils. Thirteen years after clubs in the top two divisions were obliged to try to keep them down, thousands of fans are unwilling to remain in their seats. And to Observer Sport and countless others, from MPs to the Football Supporters’ Federation, it is the regulations that are in the wrong far more than those who break them. In the report we summarise in the next four pages, the FSF set out why there is no serious reason for clubs in the top two divisions not to be allowed to reintroduce standing areas. This works perfectly well in Germany and across Europe.
Yet in the face of the FSF report and surveys showing significant support for the return of terraces, the government and the Football Licensing Authority have refused to debate the issues. In March, John de Quidt, the FLA’s chief executive, cited a study he conducted at Hamburg’s ground to support his view that the German experience could not be repeated here – despite the fact that this was an analysis of the system used at only one stadium and took place six years ago. Richard Caborn, who was sports minister from 2001 until June, told the House of Commons: ‘No new evidence has been presented to suggest that there is a single more effective way of achieving safety as well as public order than all-seat stadia.’ This despite the extensive evidence to the contrary provided in Germany. A government that has done so much in the name of ‘choice’ remains committed to denying that to football fans – and to clubs, such as Cardiff City, who want to incorporate standing areas in their new ground.
Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat member for Portsmouth South, has persuaded 141 of his fellow MPs from across all parties to sign an early-day motion calling for an end to the seats-only regulations in the top divisions. Although such motions do not carry legal force, they are a demonstration of the level of support.
One of the signatories is Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall and Caborn’s immediate predecessor as sports minister. She says: ‘All the myths and half-truths propagated by the football authorities and the FLA are exposed [in this report]. Their illogical approach to safety is demolished and by the end of the report it is clear why they don’t want to have a debate. They are wrong and we need a U-turn.’
That is why The Observer is giving space to this report, available in full at fsf.org.uk.You can read the other side of the argument at FLAweb.org.uk – and see whose case is more convincing.
Why do football fans want to stand? Why do so many – millions, probably – find that watching from a sitting position reduces their enjoyment of the game? Because football is a fast, passionate sport; because they wish to sing and chant as part of a communal act to show support for their team. At football or a concert, or even in a church, temple, synagogue or mosque, sitting is not conducive to loud or passionate singing. The atmosphere this creates is a key part of the football experience for many and is appreciated even by those who do not wish to join in.
Fans know they can lift their team, and many players and canada goose coat 1000 bulbs garland managers attribute a good performance to the level of vocal support. Since stadiums became all-seated, the atmosphere has considerably reduced. This is partly a result of people being forced to sit and partly because those of like mind, who used to congregate in areas of terraces to sing, are now spread around the ground.
Some clubs have introduced ‘singing areas’ to try to reverse this decline in noise, but it is not clear how much they expect their supporters to sing while seated. By standing, supporters feel more involved; when seated they feel more like observers than participants.
Spectators have stood at football ever since leagues became organised and for many it is the natural way to watch the sport. Across the world, fans of all ages and both sexes still stand to support their teams. It is a part of football culture and, as has been shown in recent years, will be extremely difficult to educate away.
To see what the atmosphere at English football might be like, one needs look as far only as Germany. Those in government and the football establishment who oppose standing areas will say: ‘Oh no, not Germany again – we’ve heard it all before and it’s not like that in England.’ But it could be.
In 1993, the German Football Association (the DFB) published a report into whether stadiums best canada goose coat for skiing there should have their terraces removed. The answer was an emphatic no, on several grounds.
The notion that standing encouraged hooliganism was rejected, with blame placed squarely on the individuals. ‘The majority of these spectators will not behave any differently in an all-seat stadium.’ Abolishing standing would raise prices, but ‘football, being a people’s sport, should not banish the socially disadvantaged from its stadia, and it should not place its social function in doubt’.
Just as important, ‘young fans on the terraces embody the vibrant world of football. It is here where the atmosphere that attracts millions of people all over the world to our sport is created.’
The DFB also recognised, unlike the British authorities, that simply installing seats did not guarantee that fans would use them. ‘We are now witnessing more and more cases of spectators ignoring seats… and simply standing on them. This is a very dangerous practice.’
As a result, every ground in Germany has terracing, with 24,000 standing each weekend in a single stand at Borussia Dortmund’s ground. Though it is not easy to tell from pictures of the vibrant Nord tribune (stand), the fans are divided into small pens that hold about 2,000, each with its own controlled entrance. Fans are admitted only to the pens for which they have tickets – and those tickets are far more affordable than in England. A standing ticket at Dortmund costs as little as €10 (£7), season ticket €148.
For Uefa club matches and competitive internationals, German stadiums are reconfigured. In Dortmund’s case, this involves (in the upper tier) releasing seats built into the crash barriers and (in the lower tier) bolting in removable banks of seats. Thus capacities are reduced, as England fans found out at the 2006 World Cup. But this is simply because Uefa and Fifa regulations mirror those in England, not because of safety issues. Volker Fuerderer, safety officer at Schalke’s Veltins Arena, where England went out of the World Cup, told the Football Supporters Federation (FSF): ‘In nearly six years of the existence of the Veltins Arena I would go as far as to say that there is not a single incident or injury that could be explained by the existence of standing.’
The Football Licensing Authority (FLA), the body who implement government policy on standing, reject the German experience, however. As long as Fifa and Uefa demand that internationals and Champions League games are played at all-seat venues, terraces would have to be convertible. In reaction to the FSF report, John de Quidt, chief executive of the FLA, cited a trip to Hamburg’s AOL Arena, where the terraces are converted via a hi-tech system that involves the rotation of the terrace steps through 180 degrees. De Quidt argued: ‘There is no way that could work in England. [The black friday 2013 canada goose sale Hamburg stand] was can i wash my canada goose jacket built on a huge site and on solid ground with no concourses underneath.’
But this visit was to a single ground and took place six years ago; Dortmund’s ground is reconfigured in a completely different way. The depth of De Quidt’s opposition to standing areas is apparent from a 2002 interview, when he said ‘there’s more chance of Martians landing’ than of the reintroduction of terraces. Given the obvious prejudice this comment reveals, it is plain De Quidt is not a neutral in this debate.
The arguments against safe standing are weak. Neither the government nor anybody else has demonstrated the imposition of all-seat stadiums to be the best or the only way of ensuring an acceptable level of safety at a football ground. The only figures cited by the FLA are that the number of injuries in grounds that are all-seat is lower than in those that retain a standing area.
But those who wish to establish a causal link between standing areas and accidents/injuries need detailed information on the nature, cause and exact location of those accidents and injuries. They then need to analyse this information in detail, taking into account the wide range of other factors that might act as intervening variables. The FLA have done no such analysis and are in no position to justify the assertion that small, properly designed safe standing areas are inherently less safe than seated areas.
The last sports minister, Richard Caborn, claimed that all-seat stadiums led to a rise in attendances and widened the appeal of football to ‘many more groups in society who were previously reluctant to attend matches’, including women. He also said that any return to standing areas would cost clubs a fortune because they would need to make expensive adjustments to their grounds.
We strongly dispute the accuracy of some of those assertions. Indeed, the reverse of what Caborn says about social inclusiveness is true, as poorer fans are priced out of the grounds. And, yes, it would cost clubs money to adapt their stadiums, but that would be their choice if they were allowed to reintroduce standing areas.
The FLA have stated: ‘Premiership and Football League grounds are safer, more comfortable and more civilised than they were 10 or 12 years ago.’ Only one of these concepts, safety, is an appropriate subject for government regulation. And a significant proportion of spectators say the comfort and civility of their experience has been reduced by the abolition of terraces.
Some are seated next to or near others whose size, language or demeanour they may not like. Some seating areas are decidedly uncomfortable, either because of their cramped seats (Chelsea’s West Stand) or because they are open to bad weather (Portsmouth’s away end).
A further obvious source of discomfort is for those spectators who would rather sit but cannot because other spectators stand. Of course, there should be no standing in seated areas, but there is and will continue to be, despite the prediction of Lord Justice Taylor (in paragraph 76 of his final report into the Hillsborough disaster) that standing would be a short-term phenomenon as spectators got used to the new arrangements.
The FLA and some local authorities use various methods to try to prevent persistent standing more info, including reductions in capacity, particularly for away supporters, and threats of withdrawing licences, without which a game cannot be played. Many individuals have been ejected from grounds for standing, and some even banned. This causes increased conflict between supporters, their clubs and the authorities. The attempt by local-authority licensing officers to ‘punish’ visiting supporters who persistently stand in this way is another example of a counterproductive and short-sighted policy. Broadly, if enough fans stand up, home or away, at most grounds and insist on standing, then they will not be stopped. That is the reality. Four years ago the FLA set themselves the objective of securing ‘the elimination of large-scale persistent standing by home supporters best canada goose jacket review and a reduction in standing by visitors during the 2003-04 season’. The FLA have patently failed to meet those targets, even after three additional seasons.
The current approach is thus not working, which has customer-care implications. It has failed to deal with safety concerns, either by stopping persistent standing, or by containing it to the most suitable areas. It is causing increasing problems of conflict between supporters and stewards.
Nobody wants to see the safety of fans put at risk, least of all the FSF. The question is not about whether grounds should have safety regulations proportionate and appropriate to the assessed risk – that is a given. It is about:
· whether the legal prohibition of small safe-standing areas in the top two divisions of English football is necessary;
· whether such a prohibition displays an appropriate balance between risk, regulation and individual choice;
· whether a government-imposed national regulation that applies exclusively to football displays an illogical and inconsistent approach to risk.
The government is already concerned about the relationship between risk and regulation. Tony Blair started an active debate in a speech to policy advisers in May 2005. He said: ‘We are in danger of having a wholly disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life. This puts pressure on policy-making, not just in government but in regulatory bodies, to act to eliminate risk in a way that is out of all proportion to the potential damage. The result is a plethora of rules, guidelines, responses can i wash my canada goose jacket to “scandals” of one nature or another that ends up having utterly perverse consequences.’
Part of the canada goose coat 1000 bulbs garland reason for the establishment of the Better Regulation Commission in 2005 is that regulation has often been imposed following high-profile accidents or disasters or safety scares of varying kinds but is not subsequently reviewed, sometimes throwing up an inconsistent approach compared with other greater risks in our everyday lives. The same number of people as were killed at Hillsborough die approximately every 10 days on British roads.
The inconsistent approach is highlighted by the match-going experience. Having been made to sit to watch a match, fans then make their way to the railway station and parking areas, many walking in the road, weaving through traffic. They stand on crowded platforms, where approaching trains pass, often on electrified tracks, with no protective guarding. They then board crowded trains, with many again having to stand. As a caller to BBC Radio Five Live said, following the recent announcement by a senior railway manager that commuters must expect to stand at peak periods: ‘How come I’m not allowed to stand when watching my football team but am told I must when I’m commuting, when the football stadium isn’t moving at 70 miles an hour?’
A government task force, which reported to the Prime Minister in 2005, recommended that the government should, among other things, re-examine areas where the state has assumed more responsibility for people’s lives than is healthy or desired, and separate fact from emotion. The Government agreed and said: ‘Zero risk is unattainable. We know that people are prepared to tolerate a much higher level of risk where they feel they control how it is managed.’
It is important to recognise that, in the context of the safe-standing debate, the relevant comparison is not between grounds as they are today and as they were pre-Taylor Report. It is between all-seat stadiums and stadiums of a similar standard but that contain safe-standing areas.
Thus, to take the example of, say, Stoke City, the relevant comparison is not between the new Britannia Stadium and the old Victoria Ground but between the Britannia as it currently is and as it would be with safe-standing areas.
There is no reason why a standing area cannot be safe, as is illustrated not only by stadiums in other European countries but also by the safety certificates issued to lower-league grounds in this country and by the situation in other sports.
There is no prohibition on safe-standing areas for others sports, and it does not even apply to other events such as rock concerts that are held at designated all-seat football grounds.
The absurd proposition that the safety of a ground is a function of the quality of football played within it is a classic example of illogical regulation. Not only does the all-seat legislation apply only to the top two divisions, but clubs are given three years after promotion to those divisions to remove standing areas. So Craven Cottage (Fulham), the Bescot Stadium (Walsall), Home Park (Plymouth) and Ninian Park (Cardiff) suddenly and allegedly became ‘unsafe’ when their clubs were promoted and could remain so for three years after that.
The prohibition on standing does not have broad support. Surveys suggest that, even among those who prefer to sit, there is a strong majority in favour of giving those who wish to stand the opportunity to do so. The simple reality is that a substantial minority of spectators prefer to stand, and in many cases find it more ‘comfortable’ and ‘civilised’ to do so. The common-sense solution is to give spectators the choice while always maintaining appropriate safety standards.
Advances in technology since the regulations were introduced permit far better design and management solutions. These advances include design and building technology, electronic entry systems and advances in training and event management and crowd psychology.
In his address to the Institute of Public Policy Research in 2005 Tony Blair said: ‘The wisdom that comes with failing and changing your mind is essential to progress. Often there is no obvious right or wrong answer. The most likely outcome changes all the time in response to new evidence.
‘This is a major challenge both to politicians and the media. Bodies set up to guard can you machine wash canada goose jacket the public interest have one-way pressures. It is in their interest never to be accused of having missed a problem. So, it is a one-sided bet. They will always err on the side of caution. We cannot eliminate risk. We have to live with it, manage it.’ Those comments are highly pertinent to the debate about safe standing and the approach to it.
In an FSF survey of 2,046 supporters last winter, 92 per cent said ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Should fans be given the freedom to choose whether they stand (in ‘safe-standing’ areas) or sit inside football grounds?’ Only seven per cent answered ‘no’, with one per cent unsure.
A majority of fans, including those who prefer to sit, back the introduction of safe standing. Anybody who attends games in the top two divisions in this country cannot fail to notice the number of fans who stand.
Caborn, while a minister of state, said he required evidence that standing areas can be safe. We suggest that this is to put the onus of proof the wrong way round. It is for the government to demonstrate that a regulation preventing standing areas is an appropriate, proportionate and consistent way of approaching the question of safety in football grounds.
The FLA have published statistics for the number of injuries occurring at football matches. These show an average of one injury per 27,432 spectators. Most of these injuries were minor: cuts caused by slipping or scalds from hot drinks, for example. That season (2003-04) only 127 cases required hospital treatment. This injury rate is very low, particularly considering that nearly two-thirds of those treated were either ill or had pre-existing injuries sustained outside the ground.
The injury rate is higher (one in 20,528) for grounds with terracing than all-seat grounds (one in 28,501). The FLA and the sports minister’s office frequently use these figures to justify the all-seat rules, but there is no evidence that these injuries are due to standing. It appears that there are no statistics related to the rate of injures in standing areas compared to seating.
These would be the only relevant figures in assessing the case for prohibiting standing areas and even then would need to be subject to detailed multivariate statistical analysis. The FLA point out themselves that fewer resources devoted to safety at lower-division clubs is a likely factor and of course the physical standard of grounds is by and large much lower.
There has been little in the way of education of supporters as to why they should not stand, other than that this is a ground regulation. The fact that they have stood without incident or accident for years merely convinces them that some of the arguments against standing are bordering on absurd.
While the authorities will not permit supporters to stand during play, on occasions such as the singing of national anthems or for moments of respect they are asked to do so. Before and after major matches and after goals are scored, PA announcers often play music that has the effect of encouraging supporters to stand and even dance. Yet they are told that standing during the game is unsafe.
A report commissioned by Trafford Borough Council examined the safety of supporters standing in seated areas at Old Trafford at different times. It concluded, not surprisingly, that the most dangerous time is at moments of excitement, such as when a goal is scored. The next most dangerous time is when fans are leaving the stadium, and the least dangerous is passive standing during normal play. It is only during the latter, least dangerous time that attempts are made to force supporters to sit down.
The FLA suggest that allowing supporters to stand might lead to increased crowd trouble, but no evidence appears to have been presented to support this. There is also no evidence that disorder is any more likely at grounds in Leagues One and Two, which still have standing areas. If there is evidence then it should be presented.
A change in the culture of football supporters started before all-seat stadiums, and regardless of whether supporters sit or stand (in seated areas or terraces) incidents within grounds are rare. It is simply not the case that those who stand are hooligans looking to cause trouble. They are just normal supporters of all ages and both sexes who prefer to watch football while standing.
Nobody is suggesting that anyone be made to stand. Our estimates of demand suggest that a reasonable level of safe standing would probably be about 15 to 20 per cent of capacity at the top levels of the game. Any advantages that have resulted from the provision of improved quality seating would remain.
· This article is adapted from the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Safe Standing Report, published in June 2007. The full version is available at fsf.org.uk
A tale of Taylor: how Hillsborough changed football
In April 1989, 95 Liverpool fans were killed (another died later) as a result of a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough, at the beginning of the club’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. The government asked Lord Justice Taylor ‘to inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday on 15 April and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events’.
Taylor produced an interim report in August 1989, which offered immediate recommendations on safety, and a final report in January 1990, which looked at the culture surrounding matches and the policing of them. Taylor found that the disaster had been caused in part by reactions to the build-up of fans outside the ground as kick-off approached. As a result, a compulsory national ID card scheme for fans , a central plank of the Football Spectators Act (passed in November 1989), was not implemented as it would have added to the delays. But the government did adopt his plans to replace terraces with stands and charged the FLA, created by the 1989 act, with implementing the move.
However, the abolition of terracing was not included in any legislation. The relevant clause reads: ‘The Secretary of State may, by order, direct the licensing authority to include in any licence to admit spectators to any specified premises a condition imposing requirements as respects the seating of spectators at designated football matches at the premises; and it shall be the duty of the authority to comply with the direction.’ James Purnell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, could wake up tomorrow and say that standing was allowed at football and the FLA would have to allow it.
The law relating to spectators standing in seated areas is far less clear. Lord Justice Taylor did not expect that supporters would continue can i put my canada goose jacket in the dryer to stand once grounds became all-seat and made no recommendations on this issue, which is not covered by the Football Spectators Act. Entry to matches is governed by a club’s ground regulations, which are those recommended by the Premier and Football Leagues. They state:
a) ‘Persistent standing in seated areas while play is in progress is strictly forbidden and may result in ejection from the ground.’
b) ‘The club reserves the right to eject from the ground any person best ideas about canada goose parka on pinterest failing to comply with any of the ground regulations or whose presence within the ground is, or could reasonably be construed as, constituting a source of danger, nuisance or annoyance to any other person.’
As the supporter liaison officer for Greater Manchester Police puts it: ‘Standing in seated areas is not an offence and as such is not enforced by the police. The police only get involved when there is reason to believe that a steward may be at risk in tackling fans who are standing.’
Tens of thousands of fans stand at matches every week, and no action is taken. The regulations are unenforceable.