Recent events have brought a surge in interest towards the introduction of safe standing at Celtic Park. We’ve all seen the German model and serious questions are now being raised as to why they can do it and we can’t…or won’t.
Like many of you my knowledge on the subject didn’t progress much further than knowing it was possible and that the atmosphere in Bundesliga games was pretty amazing.
Yet this is an issue being discussed much farther afield.
In my quest for knowledge I emailed a body who could answer a few simple questions. That body was the Football Supporters’ Federation…in England. Peter Daykin stepped up to the plate and played a blinder. His reply follows –
Thanks very much for your email, which Nina forwarded on to me – I hope she explained that the slight delay in my reply is a function of one of the guys in the office getting married in Ireland. Always happy to answer questions like this, to which end, I hope the following is informative/useful
Q1 What is the government’s stance?
The people with the power to lift the legislation that stops standing in the top two divisions of football in England and Wales are the government, through the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Their view is as follows:
“We accept that some supporters miss the tradition, character and history of some of our former grounds and many are in favour of the return of standing areas. It is generally accepted, however, that the majority of football grounds are safer and more comfortable than they were twenty years ago. Before any change in the legislation, there would have to be a very clear demand, as well as very clear evidence that any such change meets stringent safety standards, presented from all the relevant authorities responsible for stadium safety, including the police, as well as it being clear that this is something that all parties want.”
The Football Supporters’ Federation agree that great improvements have been made to both the infrastructure of football stadia and the management of football supporters over the past 20 years, but find no evidence linking the improvements in safety to standing itself. Successive governments have agreed that standing can be made safe (why else would they allow it below the Championship?) and we believe the debate can only be moved on by a small number of trials of new safe standing technology aimed at collecting real data that can be used to determine whether standing at football is safe.
Q2 What are football authorities’ stance?
The Football League, as a body representing its constituent clubs, has no particular stance on the issue of safe standing. In February of last year the Championship clubs had a meeting at which they voted to ask the FL to look into a means of introducing standing that would be acceptable for the clubs. This then went to the FL Board, who rejected the request point blank.
Happily, the Peterborough United Chair, Bob Symns, didn’t accept their decision and re-raised the issue, this time at the annual meeting of all league clubs earlier in the Summer. The result was that the clubs have instructed the league to set up a working party to look at at what would be involved in getting a change in the law on standing, and creating a roadmap to achieving it. It is, therefore, early days, but represents the first move by clubs to push for standing en masse.
The Premier League have a less supportive position, arguing that “since the introduction of all-seater stadia the supporter experience has improved significantly and we have seen more diverse crowds attending Premier League matches including more women and children”. Again, we do not agree that the evidence supports this position. Survey results from the Grange Road end at Cardiff’s Ninian Park the season before it went all-seated, show 45% of standing season ticket holders were women, and 35% under 16. Across Europe, many women and children enjoy watching football from standing areas. Nevertheless, the Premier League exists to serve its members and demand from the clubs themselves would put standing on the league’s agenda.
Interestingly, Cardiff, backed by their local council, produced a paper at the end of the season outlining how and why they were creating two “singing sections” in their ground, in which standing is tolerated (see http://www.cardiffcityforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?t=112403). They are the first club to tackle head on the issue of standing in seated areas (which is, of course, distinct from safe standing). Unsurprisingly, they are experiencing pushback from the authorities, but nevertheless it’s all grist to the mill.
The FA were the only body to join fans in opposing the move to all-seated stadia at the time of the Taylor Report, but have since modified their view to support the Government and the major leagues. Recently, they have begun to discuss the issue again and are planning to look into it in more detail in the coming months.
Q3 How prohibitive are costs? For example, converting the bottom tier of the North Stand at Celtic Park?
As for the business case for standing, our financial modelling suggests that return on investment is quite compelling. The additional supporter densities (safe standing allows 1.8 supporters to occupy the same space as one seated fan) soon translate to meaningful increases in gate receipts and in most cases conversion would be cost neutral within two or three years. Every club is different, though, and some are easier to convert than others, particularly in light of the increased facilities (concourse space, size of vomitories, additional toilet requirements, refreshment stands etc.) required for the additional capacity. There’s also a potential increase in policing and stewarding required.
Our attitude is that standing might not be an option for every section of every ground and we’re not trying to force clubs to adopt standing areas. Certainly, clubs building new stadia or redeveloping whole stands will find it cheaper and easier than those looking to retrofit, and that’s certainly the context in which the Football League are looking at things. Our aim is simply to campaign for a removal of impediments to safe standing, so that if clubs feel there’s a financial argument for introducing it to their ground, they would be free to do so.
Q4 Where are you in your campaign?
The critical development of the campaign so far has been getting the buy-in of football clubs. At that point it was difficult for our opponents to attribute the calls for standing to hooligans and anoraks amongst the supporter-base, and we’ve been able to find respected, plausible businessmen in suits to carry forward the arguments on our behalf. That has made a huge difference.
Getting to that point was a learning curve. Initially we concentrated on the big picture and arguing our case to the leagues and governments as a whole, but it was too easy for whoever we were talking to to pass off the responsibility to someone else. The Premier League wouldn’t allow standing as long as UEFA ban it from their competitions, but when we approached UEFA they cited the Premier League as an example of safety and customer experience – they wouldn’t introduce it as long as standing was banned there.
The safety authorities blamed government legislation, the government said the leagues did not want it, leagues maintained there was no demand from football clubs, clubs blamed local council regulation and the councils claimed they were only following the law as laid out by the government; the whole thing was one great circle of people ducking responsibility.
That all changed, though, when the FSF partnered with the Safe Standing Roadshow (http://www.safestandingroadshow.co.uk/) and took an example of rail seating to clubs and organisations around the country. Engaging clubs individually with a physical example of something that was self-evidently safe broke through the barriers and allowed us to have individual conversations with decision-makers at the different clubs and organisations. All of a sudden, people couldn’t blame clubs for a lack of demand and we’ve been able to start to unpick the circle.
It’s taken a long time, and there’s much further to go, but we’re slowly getting there. Much will depend on how things develop with the FL.
Q5 What are your next steps?
As time has gone on, opponents of safe standing talk less of the safety issues (which we believe are now all but won), and more about issues of supporter behaviour/crowd control. Our immediate efforts, then, will be centred around dialogue with the various police forces and their footballing units to outline what support/opposition they have and what specific concerns they have (which we’ll then try to answer).
We also have a number of other avenues planned in our campaign strategy, involving supporting the clubs that are open to the advent of standing, lobbying the political parties (we’re 20 months away from manifesto season!) etc. etc. As you can imagine, there’s lots to do!
Q6 How can others get involved?
It really depends on what time they have available and what they feel you can bring to the table. The campaign is being undertaken entirely by volunteers – and we’re all short of time – so we’re always delighted to welcome enthusiastic new hands.
I hope all of the above is useful.
Cheers again for getting in touch,
I hope you found the answers as useful and informative as I did.
I also contacted Andrew Jenkins of Supporters Direct Scotland about safe standing. His reply was more succinct but still gave us hope:
‘We’ll be publishing a policy paper on Safe Standing at the start of 2014 which we’ll host on our website.’
I wish Andrew and his team all the best and look forward to their views. It’s good to know something is in the pipeline north of the border.
* If you want to ask any further questions you can email Pete – firstname.lastname@example.org
* For those unsure about safe standing here’s something to dispel the myths – http://www.fsf.org.uk/campaigns/safe-standing/safe-standing-mythbuster/
* If you want to participate in a poll on safe standing click here – http://thecelticnetwork.com/2013/08/08/safe-standing-poll/
In the meantime, the next question is one for Celtic fans in favour of safe standing at Celtic Park, and for any football fan who wants to see it at their team’s ground.
What are we going to do to bring about its fruition?