The Football Licensing Authority has recently issued their Report and Accounts for 2006 and we`d like to echo their ethos that spectators should be able “to attend sports grounds in safety, comfort and security”. Stand Up Sit Down though take the view that all the time the clear desire for supporters to stand is expressed by them doing just that, that these noble ideals are being compromised week in, week out at grounds across the country.
The FLA say they are “disappointed” at the lack of progress in resolving the issue of persistent standing and that they are “concerned” that as memories of disasters fade they are seeing a growth in complacency and that our safety does not perhaps feature among the priorities of club chairmen and directors.
We have to assume that by disasters the FLA are referring at least in part to Hillsborough. Frankly to even imply that there could be another tragedy of similar proportions because supporters stand in seated areas is preposterous, misleading and we wonder if the FLA will ever stop deceiving fans, however obliquely, into thinking that standing equates to disaster. In case you`re not familiar with the FLA`s arguments as to why standing should not be allowed in our grounds again it is because “we can`t have another Hillsborough” that “fans ‘straining` to follow play while standing could mean them losing their balance and falling” that “there could be a cascade effect” and that “a fan could fall onto the head of somebody in front of them”. They do however accept that we`ll stand at ‘moments of high excitement` and of course during goal celebrations although strangely I`ve yet to witness stewards managing supporters entering and leaving the stands when there is surely real risk with near constant movement before kick off, at half time and us leaving en masse. Fortunately, we tend to be a sensible and self regulating lot otherwise I`m sure we`d see many injuries, particularly in higher tiers, as fans surge towards exits at the end of games.
In a section entitled “Strategic Priorities” the FLA state that they oversee and influence local authorities (via their Safety Advisory Groups) and other stakeholders to ensure a consistent approach. Despite supporters arguably being the largest ‘stakeholders` in the game we`re not consulted, just patronised. As to consistency, you only have to read our ‘news` section to know that there is no such thing. For example, and to the best of our knowledge, while huge pressure was put on West Ham fans in the Bobby Moore Lower to remain seated, a few miles down the road at Highbury, Arsenal fans stood without interference in the Clock End despite both clubs having the same FLA Inspector, Lou Elliston.
Away fans will report that at some grounds stewards and security teams do their utmost to ensure supporters sit while at other grounds token or no efforts are made and that they stand for the duration of the game. Some local authorities will reduce the away capacity for clubs whose supporters persistently stand but others won`t. Further, several of these local authorities have no qualms about fans attending rock concerts in football stadia while standing and dancing the night away in seated areas! Apparently, this is partly due to music fans having a different ‘profile` to us football supporters. Ask yourself why your profile could literally change in the eyes of the authority dependent on why you were in the stadium and then compare the behaviour of Oasis fans to Man City fans or Red Hot Chilli fans to Coventry fans?
The FLA are correct in saying that the majority of supporters sit, a vocal minority insist on standing. Whether they mean vocal in that invariably the loudest part of the ground is where supporters are standing and creating real atmosphere or vocal in that those who wish to stand are vociferous in their protestations they should be able to do so, we`re not sure. We would also agree with them that standing in upper tiers is unsafe.
If you`ve wondered why some clubs are employing night club bouncer style security this could be down the clubs “promulgating examples of good practice”. Good practice in the eyes of the FLA is education, persuasion and firm crowd management. If by firm they ever meant security teams (that many supporters say they or particularly their children find threatening) entering stands ‘mob handed` and in some instances physically removing fans for standing therefore causing some unrest and increasing potential for trouble we`ll probably never know. Further, if any supporter has ever been educated on why they should sit we`d be pleased to hear from them as to what education they`ve received. Persuasion could mean the video that many clubs showed of a young child going to a game but being unable to see the match due to those around him standing. We heard that at many grounds screening of this video was met with derision and viewed as emotional blackmail. Any supporter who visits his club regularly will know where there is likely to be persistent standing and would perhaps view the family area as the best place to take a young child.
The FLA conclude this section by saying that they`ve been unable to convince the majority of club chairmen that persistent standing is a potentially significant safety issue about which they should be concerned and that it would be reckless for them to wait for a life threatening incident before taking action. Given the ramifications if an incident did occur, dare we suggest that this because club chairmen, like many supporters, simply do not see that standing in lower tiers is inherently or potentially life threateningly dangerous? We would further suggest that fans who might see a degree of risk are prepared to stand regardless in the same way that people cross the road without using crossings, ride motorcycles without wearing protective clothing or stand on public transport? To say, as the Minister of Sport has done, that fans see safety as paramount in stadiums and therefore do not want to stand is again misleading. Surely everybody wants to be safe regardless of their environment but equally they do not want to be nannied or bullied by the State or be controlled because of paranoia about their safety particularly when they simply see no risk in standing passively in front of their seat and constant inconsistency in the enforcement of ground regulations?
Stand Up Sit Down would yet again put the case that standing in front of seats should be managed precisely so supporters can attend games in safety, comfort and security. Surely it has to be safer that clubs allocate an area of the ground (perhaps areas such as the Bobby Moore Lower, the Kop, the Shed End and countless others areas, mainly behind a goal in a lower tier, where supporters have stood since seats were installed) where standing is allowed and properly managed. This way, like minded supporters are together and fans can buy tickets elsewhere in the ground knowing that they can sit without their view being impaired, as they do in reality.
It simply makes no sense for the FLA to continue their mission to bring about a permanent change of culture in football grounds. If they`ve not changed our culture years after the Taylor Report – a culture established over more than century – then why do they think they can change the mindset and desires of thousands of us now?
Surely the one million pounds plus they receive in tax payers money or the £800,000+ they pay themselves in salary would be better off spent listening to the wishes of fans, regardless of whether they want to sit or stand, and start properly ensuring our safety, security and comfort?
Standing on the terraces