As political pressure mounts for a safe standing pilot in Wales, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) said this week that "seating is generally safer, more comfortable and enables more effective crowd management. It can also help to create a more inclusive and diverse environment." Here Leicester City fan group Union FS take time to respond to the SGSA on safe standing...
Thank you for acknowledging the Welsh Conservatives call for a ‘safe standing’ pilot scheme.
By way of introduction, I represent a group of Leicester City fans who are actively trying to improve the atmosphere at home and away games, as well as taking an active role in addressing many of the biggest issues football fans face in today’s game.
As a regular match-goer of games in Europe, I have plenty of experience of standing on many of the terraces that provide standing accommodation for fans in the Bundesliga. That includes the wide, open terraces with wave-breakers (something akin to that of older UK terraces but maintained, controlled and policed in a 21st century manner as seen in several Rugby League venues in the UK) such as the lower half of the Südtribüne in Dortmund as well as some smaller areas using rail seating like the away end in Leverkusen.
You conclude your acknowledgment by stating that “keeping spectators safe at sports grounds should be the overriding objective of any future discussions”. Naturally, we agree. Football supporters should be free to attend all stadiums without fear of their own safety so for the purpose of responding to your statement we will put aside the emotive but highly logical arguments of improving atmosphere and reducing ticket prices as well as the highly illogical legislation that considers fans outside the top two tiers safe to stand.
The SGSA notes in its statement that “there are a number of practical aspects to consider such as the effect of standing areas on the safe capacity, whether standing areas would be provided for home and away fans and what the impact on inclusion and accessibility would be (for example provision for disabled fans, people of short stature and small children)”. Our comments in response are as follows:
- No safe standing lobby group, including the Welsh Conservatives or the FSF, has suggested that whole stadiums should be converted to rail seating. The idea that disabled, short individuals and small children would lose out in the case of a small rail seating area being introduced as a trial is therefore a nonsense. We believe that the creation of a rail seating area at one end of the ground may actually enable clubs to expand the ‘Family’ areas of their stadium as interested fans move over to the rail seating area, freeing up space for younger fans and their parents. That is not to say that young fans do not wish to stand. The ‘Wölfi-Kurve’ at VfL Wolfsburg in Germany is an example of a 2,500-capacity rail seating area specifically designed for the next generation of supporters; educating them on standing behaviour and allowing them to socialise with many other young fans of the same club.
- There is zero evidence that the introduction of a safe standing area is likely to have an adverse impact on social inclusion or diversity. In fact, the opposite is quite true as many young fans priced out in reaching adulthood may well be able to return should rail seating bring about a reduction in ticket prices as we believe it should and would. In addition, current seating arrangements mean people are in effect ‘locked-in’ to their seat, conversing only with those in the immediate vicinity. In an ideal state, a rail seating area with a safely controlled capacity would allow people to mingle freely, to discuss the game with different people each week, to stand with a big group of friends and to make new friends – all of which adds to community spirit and promotes diversity which should be two of the overarching objectives of local sport.
- We appreciate your comments that the safe capacity would have to be considered along with other practical issues. This is of course a fair statement underpinned by planning applications. However, this must surely be considered on a case-by-case, stadium-by-stadium basis before the redevelopment of a proposed area begins – as would happen with any all-seater stadium – rather than be a reason for the SGSA’s total lack of support for rail-seating. Put another way, the SGSA would not put a nationwide block on all-seaters adding 5,000 additional seats so there is no reason as to why this should be used for the argument against the introduction of safe-standing.
- For completeness, we believe that a trial area should be provided for both home and away fans. A trial would be incomplete without assessing the behaviour of away fans – which we expect will be the biggest security risk in the eyes of authorities – but in our opinion it is extremely illogical to suggest that fans who stand in seated areas will behave badly if they are placed in safe standing accommodation. Stephen Graham of the West Midlands Police Force has gone on record saying as much.
The SGSA also notes in the acknowledgment of the Welsh Conservatives’ call for a pilot that “standing areas can present particular safety challenges around crowd management, movement and migration” and that it recognises that there are some fans who may prefer to stand, but the SGSA view is that seating is generally safer, more comfortable and enables more effective crowd management.
Whilst we would not argue that rail seating areas would present challenges in crowd management, we would certainly argue that the additional management, movement and migration issues that would be encountered are negligible when compared with the current scenario where thousands stand in seated areas.
As football fans it is frustrating and quite patronising to continue to read that seating is ‘generally safer’ when there is empirical evidence to suggest that rail seating is an incredibly effective and profitable method of providing safe accommodation for fans who will stand irrespective of ground regulations, and when learned professionals with far more experience than any football fan in the area, such as Professor Steve Frosdick, publicly back the campaign.
It must be recognised by the SGSA that football fans will continue to ignore ground regulations in the top two tiers of English football. It is surely also an undeniable fact that the SGSA believe standing in seated areas is inherently unsafe as we understand it monitors each club’s standing levels on a regular basis. Even the Premier League has directed its members to adopt innovative strategies in dealing with persistent standing at their stadia. As such, it is our opinion that the governing bodies continuing to ignore professional advice and evidence that would bring about safer environments for fans to enjoy football in are acting negligently by not advising the incumbent government accordingly.
In addition, the notion that seating is ‘more comfortable’ is incredibly subjective and we believe that it should be left to personal choice. We note your concerns that people of short stature may have their view restricted, however as we have pointed out above, these individuals would have the choice to stand or sit. This is clearly preferential to the current situation where shorter individuals at away games are forced to stand. In addition, individuals (including myself) over 6 feet tall struggle to force their legs between tightly packed rows of seats and as such find standing a far more comfortable option!
There is no doubt that fans would need to be educated on using the rail seating areas. We would propose that this be done by organising several pre-season friendlies, increasing the safe capacity of the area in increments, as happens (presumably under your instruction) when new stadia open.
I would like to conclude by echoing the comment made by FSF chairman Malcolm Clarke who stated that they would never support something that put the safety of fans in jeopardy. As a group, we concur and based on the accounts of Prof Frosdick and the many safety groups presiding over countries such as Germany and Austria, we believe that the SGSA are free to and should lend their support to the campaign.
Thank you for your time in reading our response and we look forward to yours in turn.
The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.