With West Bromwich Albion applying for permission to introduce a ‘safe standing section’ in the Smethwick End of The Hawthorns and that application being rejected by the Government last week, the case for safe standing isn’t going away.
In the Government’s response, Minister for Sport MP Tracey Crouch appeared to make up the reasons for her decision, as those reasons do not tally with other finding’s in the world of football.
“The answer to dealing with persistent standing is not necessarily to introduce safe-standing. There are regulations to deal with persistent standing — I would like to see them enforced.”
Stating she receives as ‘many messages’ from people complaining about persistent standing as she does safe standing, the thought of letting people who want to stand safely, and thus not trouble those who want to sit seems to completely evade her.
Proponents of safe standing are also the ‘vocal minority’ yet she’s aware of the surveys? Further, clubs aren’t convinced themselves and there’s ‘no desire’ amongst the top clubs to reintroduce safe standing.
Which studies have formed the homework? Surveys have regularly found that West Brom are far from alone in stating they would be open to featuring in a pilot scheme – we were just the first to physically apply.
West Brom’s initial response to the rejection can be read Here.
The only way to read Crouch’s speech given it patently misses the point, is that there is a greater desire amongst the Government to continue their hardline treatment of football fans and real safety or considered choice isn’t a concern for them. How does cracking down on persistent standing with prosecutions address the hazards fans face when celebrating a goal where someone else and their back/shoulder serves as a barrier for example?
The petition has already grown to over 56,000 signatures at the time of typing and the target is 100,000.
The Football Safety Officers Association have made their own telling statement in response and that can be read in full by Clicking Here.
The crux of their response points out the Minister’s error.
“The issue of supporters persistently standing in seating areas is one that affects all-seater football stadia up and down the country and threatens to compromise the safety of thousands of fans every match day. Something must be done to tackle this issue, and the introduction of an alternative such as ‘rail seating’ or other systems currently being developed to enhance safety should not be ignored. Safety Officers and Club Directors across the country are subject to legislative requirements but this is one legislation that should be given careful consideration. The safety of spectators must always remain paramount but it seems that as we strive to improve standards of safety already achieved at our grounds, the Government is then choosing to ignore what may prove to be a safer alternative to standing in seated areas.”
EFL chairman Shaun Harvey was also less than impressed with the Government’s response and made a bold move of his own. The BBC have him saying that he’s ‘robustly’ asking for safe standing to be introduced based on the ‘significant popular demand’ that seems to elude Crouch.
“I can assure you that we do not consider the comments made this week to be the last word on the matter. We will continue to engage robustly with government and other relevant stakeholders in order to achieve the changes to the all-seater policy that our clubs seek. The government should not underestimate how popular a change in approach would be with the football-supporting element of the electorate.”
I’ll leave the last words for Safe Standing Roadshow’s Jon Darch.
“The Sports Minister clearly refuses to listen to the safety experts! The West Brom proposal was submitted by the Chair of the Football Safety Officers Association and backed by the club’s Safety Advisory Group, which includes representatives of West Midlands Police and of the government’s own national stadium safety body, the Sports Ground Safety Authority. Despite all these expert safety practitioners agreeing that the club should apply for permission to enhance spectator safety by fitting rail seats, the Minister is flying in the face of this expert advice by suggesting that stewards should force fans to sit down!”
Pointing to the claim that the Government would review its policy on rail seats when data was in from Celtic’s trial, Darch reminds her that this trial has now been running for two years without an issue and Glasgow authorities are perfectly happy with the arrangement, yet the Government remains quiet and unconvinced – so what data are they looking at?
“She has now compounded her bizarre ruling on West Brom’s proposal by saying that fans calling for rail seating are just a ‘vocal minority’ and claiming that ‘there is no desire among the top clubs’ to change the status quo. Yet in the very same week Richard Arnold, the MD of Manchester United, told Andy Mitten in a piece for ESPN ‘We support it. We would like to implement it at Old Trafford if the legislation allowed it.’
Add your name to the petition – it’s our game, not their’s!