Fans can ‘create powerful voice that should be heard’ in safe standing bid

Fans can 'create powerful voice that should be heard' in safe standing bid
Celtic’s safe standing: how does it work?

Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey says fans can “create a powerful voice that should be heard” in the bid to change legislation around standing at grounds.

The EFL, in partnership with the Football Supporters Federation (FSF), want clubs to be able to offer a choice of seated and standing if they wish.

An online survey on the subject will be launched at 09:00 BST on Friday.

More than 100,000 people signed a petition for safe standing that could lead to a parliamentary debate.

Harvey said the petition has “opened the door” and he hopes more people will get involved with the EFL campaign.

“We have a mandate from the clubs,” said Harvey. “If there is an equal mandate from the fans it would create a very powerful voice that should be heard.”

The Football Spectators Act, which was introduced in response to the Taylor report in the aftermath of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, requires all-seater stadiums in the top two divisions of English football but does not apply to Scotland.

What does the survey ask?

The survey, which will close on 10 May, asks the following questions:

  • Do you believe all professional football clubs should be able to offer supporters a choice of licensed standing or seated accommodation at their matches should they wish to?
  • Given the choice, would you prefer to sit or stand to watch matches?
  • If all clubs were able to offer licensed standing accommodation, would it make you more or less likely to attend games?

‘This debate is not going away’

On 9 April, West Brom’s request to install rail seating at the Hawthorns was rejected by sports minister Tracey Crouch, who said there were no plans to change present legislation, which requires clubs in England’s top two divisions to have all-seater stadiums.

Crouch said only a ‘vocal minority’ wanted standing areas, something the FSF disputes.

Harvey says the majority of the 72 EFL clubs – 21 of whom have never been subject to the all-seater regulation because they have not played higher than the third tier since it has been in force – want the option to be able to offer standing and seated areas.

In the wake of the West Brom decision, Harvey is demanding greater clarity from the Sports Ground Safety Authority, which has provided the government with advice on safety issues at football grounds.

He said: “This debate is not going to go away. The SGSA need to be very clear about what their position is and justify it, to allow it to be challenged where appropriate.”

‘No logic’ to current policy

West Brom wanted to offer safe standing to both home and away fans at The Hawthorns

West Brom are bottom of the Premier League and will be relegated if they fail to beat Newcastle at St James’ Park on Saturday.

Shrewsbury Town have reached the League One play-offs. In contrast to West Brom, they plan to install rail seating in time for next season and, even if they are promoted to the Championship and stay there, would be given a three-year grace period for their Greenhous Meadow stadium to become all-seater.

The confusion over two clubs potentially being in the same league, both wanting standing areas and only one being allowed forms the crux of the safe standing argument the EFL and FSF are putting forward.

Harvey said: “I take the word safe out of it. It is standing or not.

“Was West Brom’s application turned down because they were in the Premier League? We don’t know.

“We must have a consistent policy. There is no logic I understand that dictates why a terrace that is perfectly safe in League One is no longer safe after three years in the Championship.

“We have a simple position. We think standing should be allowed in all three divisions.”

Hillsborough families informed

On the eve of their campaign being published, the EFL contacted three campaign groups who were heavily involved in the fight for justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, to inform them of the survey and tell them they were conscious of the feeling among the families of the victims.

The FSF said they had deliberately kept a low profile during the safe standing debate until the Hillsborough inquests had reached their conclusion.

One of the groups contacted, Spirit of Shankly, ran a poll last year where 88% of the 18,000 who responded said they were in favour of the introduction of rail seating. Many members of the group were impressed during a visit to Celtic earlier this month to see how the facility worked.

Harvey argues that having the choice to stand could improve the situations at grounds because it would reduce the instances of persistent standing in seated areas which many clubs now turn a blind eye to.

FSF chief executive Kevin Miles said: “There are clubs who are having to manage persistent standing in seated areas who are hamstrung because one of the methods they could use to deal with it, to offer choice, is against the regulations.

“There are safety officers would love to say on the ticket ‘would you prefer to sit or stand’, so the latter could go at the back but they can’t.

“This blanket solution stops anyone making progress.”

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