SAFE STANDING

The campaign for the introduction of safe standing areas into football stadia has been a constant feature of Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) policy and campaign activity since the inception of the organisation and has been supported by The Fulham Supporters' Trust since the campaign's launch.

At the 2010 Fans’ Parliament,within a safe standing workshop, delegates were told about a new approach to the drive for safe standing, a reboot for a campaign reinvigorated by the coming together of Stand Up Sit Down (SUSD), a single issue supporters’ movement campaigning for safe standing in seated areas, and the FSF.

Aims of the FSF Safe Standing Campaign

Four aims were agreed:

Aim 1 – Campaigning for a change in the rules so that all clubs are able to provide safe standing areas.

Aim 2 – Support for the better management of existing standing within all-seated stadia.

Aim 3 – Campaigning for the retention of existing terraces for clubs outside the top two divisions, where they still exist.

Aim 4 – Encouraging and working with clubs to include safe standing areas within new stadiums.

All were in line with existing FSF policy, although aims 3 and 4 in particular demonstrate a broadening of the campaign’s scope.

Campaign Areas

Six key campaign areas were identified. They are listed here along with information about progress in each area since last year: 

1. Safety

Both FSF and SUSD campaigns have previously worked hard on establishing the argument that standing is not inherently unsafe and many of the points we have jointly raised have been conceded. Largely, the debate at the highest level has moved on to other areas, and as a result, the 2010 conference resolved to continue to keep a watching brief on the safety argument, but to focus efforts elsewhere.

Two factors caused a re-appraisal of this approach. Firstly, despite the fact that the authorities increasingly concede that standing can be made safe, it became clear that the PR battle was not won insofar as fans and journalists are concerned. Consistently, reports suggested that the campaign aimed for a “return to terraces”, rather than the introduction of new technologies that make standing safe.

Secondly, the events of Hillsborough in April 1989 still cast a shadow over any campaign for standing at football, most notably (and understandably) amongst those touched directly by the tragedy. As such, the debate can understandably be highly emotive for some, even though standing was ruled out as a cause of the death of fans at Hillsborough.

The Safe Standing Roadshow (http://www.safestandingroadshow.co.uk/) was commissioned by the campaign committee as a strategy for dealing with both of the issues expounded above. The idea, originally suggested by FSF member Jon Darch, is to take a unit demonstrating 'rail seats' (the FSF’s favoured technology for delivering safe standing in grounds which might be used in European competitions) around the country.

The roadshow unit creates a very tangible and easily understandable visual aid for fans, clubs and journalists, demonstrating how latest technology and good design can enable safe standing in a stadium which may also need to used in all-seated mode. The Roadshow made its debut appearance at the Wolves Fans’ Parliament on Thursday 18 May. After looking at the roadshow and debating the issues, 90% of those present wanted a choice whether to stand or to sit at matches.

On 23 June the roadshow appeared at a public meeting at the Sandon pub in the shadow of Anfield. Amidst considerable media interest, around 70 supporters debated the issue, amongst them some members of the Hillsborough groups and more than one Liverpool steward.

Although there was some hostility, the debate on the whole was calm and mature and there were relevant points raised and good questions asked. Listening to the concerns and fears of those present was very  useful and worthwhile, raising as it did some new points about which more thought is needed

Similarly, some of those who were hostile at the beginning of the meeting appeared much less so at the end and the practical illustration was very valuable as an exercise in education and myth-busting. By going to Liverpool and having the debate, it was believed that an important taboo has been broken. Further visits by the roadshow have been made and more planned. 

2. Economics

With crowds far from capacity, even in the Premier League, and the economic crisis looking set to continue, the Safe Standing Campaign Committee felt the time was right for exploration of the economic benefits of standing and some of the surrounding issues. At the 2010 Fans’ Parliament it was agreed to consult membership on appropriate pricing for standing and undertake some simple cost-benefit analysis and financial modelling, as well as looking into issues like the effects of dwindling attendances on the necessity for people to buy season tickets.

Now that we are clear about our preferred model of safe standing for top flight grounds, some work has been undertaken looking into the financial modelling, but this, along with consulting our members, is something that we will be looking for more help with in the year ahead. 

3. Politics

The 2010 conference resolved to increase the campaign’s emphasis on pressing the government on safe standing. While this has always been central to the campaign, Conference notes the presence, for the first time, of a party in government, albeit as part of a coalition, that has formally backed safe standing.

It had been suggested that the government’s online consultation on unnecessary laws that people would like to see scrapped would be a good place to start and to focus bottom-up action, and appropriate responses were made to that consultation. However, early in the football season Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster announced that he was launching a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament calling for a change to the legislation on standing.

The Bill is intended to give all football clubs the freedom to build, or maintain existing, safe standing sections in their stadia if they choose; to establish minimum safety criteria that must be met for standing sections in football stadia; and for connected purposes. 

Don Foster convened a 'round table' discussion of all interested parties to discuss the issue. FSF welcomed this initiative since it had been calling unsuccessfully for years for an evidence-based debate on the topic involving all relevant parties and authorities. The meeting agreed areas of work on which further information, evidence and data are required.

On 7 December 2010, the House of Commons was asked, under the Ten Minute Rule motion, to give leave for this Bill to be introduced. The sponsor was allowed 10 minutes to support the Bill and there was ten minutes for other MPs to comment. The House agreed and the Bill was read a first time. This Bill will be on the Order Paper for a second Reading debate on 21 October 2011.

4. Civil Engineering

Historically, opponents to standing have raised structural and engineering arguments to make the case that stadia cannot be adapted to include safe standing, or to oppose standing in seated areas. Conference resolved last year to research these issues so that we can better understand them and prepare counter arguments where appropriate.

The workshop at the Fans’ Parliament highlighted innovations at the Dallas Cowboys and in English rugby as places to start our fact-finding, and underlined the importance of fresh thinking in identifying viable retrofit options for standing areas. This is another area that has not been fully explored this year and one in which the FSF intends to be more active, hopefully with the engagement and support of other interested fans.

5. Customer care/control issues 

The police use the argument that sitting makes football crowds easier to police and control because there is an easy link between identity and seat number. Conference resolved to undertake research into the numbers of arrests at football matches and reasons for those arrests. The FSF has been liaising with a number of eminent academics about possible collaboration or research into this subject.

6. Leveraging local activists and building relationships

A database of clubs with remaining terracing was compiled and FSF has started working with supporters and officials at these clubs to prevent the all-seater option becoming a default for clubs building new stadia, especially for those outside of the top two divisions.

Scunthorpe were at risk of falling foul of the Football League’s 'Three Year Rule' under which clubs promoted to the Championship are afforded three years’ grace before they are required to go all-seated. This ridiculous rule, which measures safety purely in terms of the quality of football on show, looked set to deprive fans of another of their dwindling standing assets. Under the co-ordination of Martin O’Hara and the FSF’s Yorkshire Division, a petition was organised online and at Scunthorpe matches and the group were extremely successful at raising awareness of the club’s plight.

In the end, Scunthorpe were relegated which removed the problem, but the process was valuable in highlighting a potential future problem likely to be compounded by the Football League’s imminent amendment to reduce the grace period to two years. It was also impressive to see a regional division spring into action with such unity and energy.

Campaign Penetration and the Online Petition

Some supporters are not engaging with the campaign because of a defeatist attitude (“I support safe standing but it’ll never happen, so there’s no point”). Others are misunderstanding basic tenets of the safe standing argument and not reading the supporting literature presented. This points to the need for an information pack to be circulated to fans, which we intend to work on in the coming months.

Meanwhile, many broadcast and written journalists use images of old terraces and in other ways misrepresent the detail of the FSF's argument, pointing to a need for a press pack with appropriate imagery to be circulated for journalists, another action for our to do list.

Finally, authorities which are not supportive of the introduction of safe standing often point to a lack of demand which flies in the face of FSF's experience and every major survey of fans. As a result, the FSF office, staffed by A19, added a safe standing petition to the website earlier this year. The petition has attracted over 12,000 signatures to date, but will form a much more central role in the campaign as political efforts are stepped up next year. FSF is also working on strategies to introduce greater creativity into the marketing of our campaign – parodies, videos and amusing imagery are all under consideration.