Football fans are getting a raw deal. 1.4 million who want to play football can’t due to scant facilities. Season tickets for top clubs are a rip-off; costing 5 times more than in Spain and Italy. Disabled fans are treated shamefully. Only two Premiership Clubs meet the recommended level of number of spaces specially designed for wheelchair users. The game is disappearing from free-to-air TV.
And fans can’t stand at matches, though many want to. According to the Football Fans’ Census, 91% of fans think they should be able to choose to stand.
Of course, none of us can forget Hillsborough.
Fourteen years ago, Liberal Democrats were right to support the introduction of all-seater grounds in the top leagues. Nor should we ever support a return to traditional terraces which were clearly unsafe.
But it’s time to reassess standing based on compelling new evidence.
All-seater grounds aren’t necessarily safe. Several clubs say they regularly experience problems with fans standing in seating areas. This is dangerous because those areas simply aren’t designed to support standing. Yet it’s difficult to stop large numbers of people from standing if they’re determined to.
Also, modern developments mean that standing could be introduced safely. Evidence from abroad shows us that supporters can stand safely. In Germany, a standing ticket allows you to enter a specific standing area, usually of around 2,000 fans. Entry to those areas is carefully monitored and controlled by stewards. In some cases, flip-down seats are also included. Standing and seating areas are separated. Everyone can choose how they watch.
Manchester City’s Safety Officer told me that he would welcome safe standing – as long as it was managed properly.
That’s why the party has backed a motion to, following further research, support the introduction of safe-standing for clubs who want to introduce it and only if it meets stringent safety requirements.
Millions of football fans deserve to have their voices heard. Liberal Democrats have listened and will do all we can to back their call for safe standing.