{mosimage} 27 July ~ While fans continue to be discouraged from standing in all-seat stadiums, a leading voice in football stadium management is urging the authorities to allow safe terraces. The Football Licensing Authority website carries details of a March 21 meeting, hosted by Bath Lib Dem MP Don Foster, between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the football authorities, supporter groups and Football Safety Officers Association (FSOA) among others, who were “invited to share their thoughts on the reintroduction of standing at all seated grounds”.

Foster brought the Safe Standing Bill to the House of Commons. As he said at the beginning of that speech on December 7, 2010, any debate on football stadiums will inevitably raise “the spectre of the tragic events at Hillsborough in 1989”. A Private Members’ Bill, it is due for a second reading in October and has little chance of becoming law, unless the government backs it. But it is hard to see a minister of any ruling political party going out of their way to support standing for fear of a bad press.

Meanwhile, the co-author of a new book says that it is unreasonable to use Hillsborough as an argument against the reintroduction of standing. In More Safety and Security at Sports Grounds (Paragon Publishing, 2011) Jim Chalmers wrote: “The time is right to look forward and not keep looking over our shoulders at the spectre of Hillsbrough.” To allow safe standing in the top two divisions is feasible, he believes: “The design and control measures already exist for the provision of safe standing. All that is necessary to give the fans what they want is a bold step and a leap of faith by government responding positively to the call for a return of safe standing.”

Chalmers, a respected figure in UK football safety, is a retired senior West Midlands Police officer and Aston Villa matchday commander, then an FLA inspector, and most recently deputy safety officer for Kidderminster and Coventry City. He is also the president of the FSOA and says: “It is now time to admit that we have lost the battle in persuading fans to sit down at football matches. In other words, it is ‘people power’ which has prevailed. In many cases ground management have given up trying to enforce all seating. Even the football regulatory bodies have accepted the inevitable, that in the overall scheme of things, persistent standing is not a priority.”

In sum, Chalmers describes persistent standing as “an everyday occurrence”. He points to the scenario that a club promoted from League One to the Championship has three seasons to go from standing terraces to all-seat. What is suddenly risky in season four, he asks. As in other walks of life, the professionals on the ground, by applying (or not applying) the rules, may break the deadlock. Chalmers points to a “new and less directive style” of safety certification preferred by the FLA. If the safety officer undertakes a risk-assessment and reckons that persistent standing is not a significant safety risk, who will disagree? Mark Rowe

Comments (11)
Comment by David Agnew 2011-07-27 19:07:16

“The time is right to look forward and not keep looking over our shoulders at the spectre of Hillsbrough.”

Yes, and no. The whole point of safe standing, is that it looks at all the issues that caused the Hillsborough, and tackles those issues that were caused by the stadium design. If the safe standing areas proposed don't address those issues, then it shouldn't be used. The safe standing system that used in Germany does address those issues , and also allows the area concerned to be used for seating, for use in FIFA UEFA events where they request that all-seater areas are used.

Comment by Rogin, veranda chair fan 2011-07-27 21:09:07

The Hillsborough disaster was caused by many factors that unfortunately came together on the same day, but the one factor that primarily caused the deaths of so many people on April 15th 1989 was the sheer existence of the fences to stop fans simply spilling out onto the pitch to avoid the deadly crush behind them.

The fences were put up at Hillsborough as indeed at most grounds in the day to prevent the pitch invasions which for 20 years had become a normally, and usually violent, feature of unfenced stadia.

So to discuss whether the time is right to go back to unseated (and unfenced) terraces in stadia is also to discuss whether the reintroduction of those wouldn't quickly lead nowadays to encouraging the kinds of mass pitch invasions we used to see in the 1970s, which used to fuel and give life to the hooligan culture everyone's done so much to eradicate from the game. I don't know the answer, really.

Comment by Alex Walker 2011-07-27 21:31:02

"Hillsborough" is only ever raised by people wanting to shut down debate, so no it shouldn't have any influence on it.

Should someone wish to use it as a basis for the potential pitfalls as David mentions, then it's fine, but I've never seen anyone remotely rational bring it up. "Hillsborough could happen again!" is always the cry. Right. So why hasn't it happened in Germany, or indeed live music events in this very country? Are you even willing to let a discussion begin?

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-07-28 13:35:01

Last season I witnessed a pitch invasion after the second play-off game at Shrewsbury and was distinctly unimpressed by how many "fans" went on the pitch and taunted the opposition fans. It is a criminal offence to go on the pitch and if violence had broken out, then there could have been ramifications. There was criminal damage to the stadium during / after a local derby with Hereford too.

I think it's reasonable to ask whether fan behaviour has improved enough since the fences came down. It's better, but it's not great.

The main reason standing won't return at the top level is because people expect to pay less to stand than to sit. PL clubs won't want to lose money by charging some fans a lower entry fee. The only way they would make more money is if you cram more people into a standing area than would be seated in there - and that would be unsafe! Even smaller clubs with all-seaters (like Shrewsbury) won't go back, given the financial reason not to.

Comment by Alex Walker 2011-07-29 08:19:53

If you just give people the right to stand in front of their seat, then that avoids that issue.

Comment by Alex Walker 2011-07-29 08:28:04

Oh, according to the Wikipedia entry for the Allianz Arena, "10,400 of the seats in the lower tier corners can be converted to standing room to allow an additional 3,120 spectators."

So if it's safe to convert seats to standing room and let in more people in Germany, I don't see any reason why it should be an issue at New Meadow.

Comment by Safety Officer 2011-07-29 10:02:14

In my opinion many people are missing the point. The reason for the Hillsborough disaster was not the fact that there were fences. The reason that 96 people died is that the standing area was vastly overcrowded (approximately three times its capacity). The fences prevented the victims from escaping an overcrowded area. They didn't cause the problem. A standing area with the correct number of people in it is not inherently dangerous however high or strong the fences and (as has been mentioned in previous posts) is a succesful method of viewing other sporting events as well as musical concerts the world over. To continually suggest that standing per se is dangerous is just plain wrong. Control the capacity of standing areas so everyone has the right amount of space and we will have safe events.

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-07-29 12:39:42

@Safety Officer
"Control the capacity of standing areas so everyone has the right amount of space and we will have safe events."

But the issue is standing crowds are essentially fluid so making sure everyone has the right amount of space is difficult. Concerts generally have more empty space at the back and a crush at the front. And people do die at concerts - a handful a year, admittedly, but often in smaller capacity venues (a few thousand people).

It's not as simple as saying 'x cubic feet per person and we're okay' - if there are visibility issues in one part of the terrace, then people won't stand there. On any terrace you get 'clumping' - fans don't distribute along it uniformly.

@Alex Walker "if it's safe to convert seats to standing room and let in more people in Germany, I don't see any reason why it should be an issue at New Meadow."

Fair point. Not quite sure how good comparing NM to the Allianz arena is, though. You have many other variables to contend with - capability of stewarding, access, functionality of design (if Allianz was designed with reconfiguration in mind it could well be different to a purpose-built all-seater) etc.

Comment by markrowe 2011-07-29 14:11:25

Just to add, for more on this subject see this review of the book -

On another subject there is this remarkable article from Interpol on Fifa -

Comment by Safety Officer 2011-07-31 11:04:54

@Jongudmund. I'm afraid I can't agree with you. In the majoprity of cases it is exactly as simple as saying x amount of square metres per person (typically 0.5 sq. mts per person for a standing event such as a concert). Generally it's the amount of square metres per person with a good sightline to the object of view (such as the pitch or a stage). The Green Guide also gives capacity figures for standing terraces. If this area capacity is strictly controlled then it cannot be overcrowded. Even if there is some movement amongst the audience they will not be subjected to an increasing static load from behind which was what caused the deaths at hillsborough. I agree that there is freqently a space at the back of a concert crowd but to assume that it equals crushing at the front is not correct. Although there have been fatalities due to crowd pressure (David Cassidy concert at White City 1971) these are extremely rare and the vast majority (such as the incident in 1988 at Donington) where due to crowd collapses caused by lateral sways in the crowd. These result from the particular types of cultural behaviour such as "Moshing" at some concerts which can cause collapses within the crowd. Crowd behaviour at football matches is predominatly static with many fans stnding at their favourite spot every game and though there maybe some temporary surges forward during attempts at goal etc., these tend to recede within a short time and the status quo is regained.

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-08-01 14:16:04

@Safety Officer Okay don't agree. But I've been on a very overcrowded terrace where the majority of fans were trying to stand in the middle (there were spaces at the end). I was caught in a crowd surge after a goal and people did fall and were injured.

The theory is fine but not always right.

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