Opinion: Time to deliver on safe standing

Saudi football supporterAt Autumn Conference in 2008, the Liberal Democrats passed a motion backing proposals to change the regulations that prevent football stadiums in the Championship and Premier League from providing ‘safe-standing’ areas. The motion called for the Government to:

Replace any regulations requiring spectators to be seated with new regulations clearly setting out standards under which a safe standing area may be licensed.

And

Direct the Football Licensing Authority to prepare suitable guidance under which domestic football clubs, working with their supporters, may introduce safe standing areas.

Fast forward to 2014 and those regulations, that prevent football clubs from providing a safe area for fans who wish to stand to do so, are still in place.

Peter Daykin of the Football Supporters’ Federation recently described the regulations around standing at football as “utter bollocks”. I’d strongly recommend reading his blog to see just how ridiculous the Government’s position is. That these messy, unfair and logic defying regulations are still in place is incredibly frustrating.

However, recent developments have provided us with a real opportunity to deliver on that motion we passed nearly 6 years ago. Earlier this month, Football League clubs publicly backed calls to allow Safe Standing in the Championship and the Government has said it will speak to the League’s representatives on the subject. The Football League’s position is a massive blow to one of the major arguments used by the Government against Safe Standing, that the clubs themselves don’t want it. In addition to this, several Premier League clubs have now suggested they would be open to allowing Safe Standing at their grounds, Manchester United being the most recent. It can no longer be argued that there is no support from within the game for a change to the regulations.

While the Government saying they will discuss Safe Standing is a positive step, the noises from Conservative ministers and DCMS spokespeople are not quite so encouraging. If change is going to happen, it’s clear political pressure is going to have to come from the Lib Dem side of the coalition. And not just from stalwarts of the Safe Standing campaign like John Leech, who has been impressive on this issue for years, but from other voices within the Parliamentary Party.

Safe Standing is obviously not the most important issue in politics at the moment, but politics is not just about the big economic questions of the day. It’s also about the smaller, everyday things that matter to ordinary people. It’s a credit to our party that we have this policy and that we can champion issues usually ignored in politics. It would be even more of a credit if we could use our current position to see our Conference motion of 2008 adopted by Government.

Being in Government and with football clubs now openly backing Safe Standing, we, as Liberal Democrats, may never have a better opportunity to achieve this change. To quote Peter Jones, who summed up the motion in 2008, our policy is “Popular, liberal, safe, sensible.” Let’s take this chance and make it happen.

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3 Comments

  • I personally belivie that safe standing is the way to bring back the atmosphere to the terraces and getting more fans to support their local club with cheaper ticket prices means more fans like myself would be able to go and watch there footballing Heroes.

  • Matt Hemsley 17th Feb '14 - 1:02pm

    I seem to remember David Cameron – pre-election – saying he would be happy to review this situation as well. You are right, there is probably no better time than the present, momentum is with the campaign and signaling an intent to change these regulations.

    I still live in hope, though – but perhaps it is something the new Lib Dem Friends of Football group could raise at Spring Conference?

  • I am a season ticket holder at a championship club ( formerly a premiership club :-(( ) and I have also been to everyone of the 92 current league grounds and quite a lot of the others as well. The clubs have completely lost control of the standing situation in all-seater stadia because it is unenforceable. The result is en masse potentially unsafe standing in front of seats. I say unsafe because if there is a problem, moving away is very difficult- laterally is blocked by other spectators and climbing over the seats is not a sensible idea.

    There is a good model in Germany which I believe English clubs are looking at.

    One point which is often missed is the problems created for away fans who want to sit down as virtually all away fans stand up so the view is blocked. My partner and I have given up going to away matches for this reason. The alternative is to go incognito with the home supporters which is also against the rules.

    I doubt whether safe standing will result in cheaper tickets though. If fans are prepared to pay current prices to stand in front of a seat, the big clubs have no incentive to charge less.

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