Safe Standing At Newcastle United?
The campaign for safe standing areas to be incorporated into top-level football grounds has received a major boost, after Aston Villa said they are examining introducing a standing section at Villa Park.
Paul Faulkner, Villa’s chief executive, told a supporters’ consultation group that he recognises fans want to stand, that safe standing areas could help improve the match atmosphere, allow for some cheaper ticket prices, and therefore attract younger supporters currently priced out by the cost of seats.
Faulkner has met the Football Supporters’ Federation, which has long campaigned for a relaxation of the law compulsory requiring clubs in the top two divisions to have all-seating in their grounds.
Villa have become the first Premier League club to break publicly with the orthodoxy which has lasted two decades, that standing is too associated with football’s bleak period in the 1980s ever to return.
Lord Justice Taylor recommended compulsory all-seating for all football grounds, rejecting massive fears from fans that prices would rocket, saying: “It should be possible to plan a price structure which suits the cheapest seats to the pockets of those at present paying to stand,” citing the cost of standing at Rangers’ Ibrox ground then, of £4. With cumulative inflation of 77.1% since, the price of that ticket at the beginning of this season would have been £7. Yet prices at the bigger Premier League clubs mostly start at a minimum £30 and go much higher than that. At Liverpool, whose supporters were the victims at Hillsborough, standing on the Kop cost £4 in 1989-90; the price for a seat this season at category A games is £45.
Politicians have been reluctant even to discuss standing at football, because of the association with Hillsborough, but last year the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, said he would look at the issue if presented with overwhelming agreement by the police and safety authorities. That remains a long way off, but the argument has shifted, with the authorities no longer able to argue that standing is in itself unsafe.
Awareness has grown of the standing areas in the German Bundesliga, between rails spaced closely enough to make a large crush physically impossible. The FSF points to the safety risk at Premier League grounds now, where many fans stand throughout matches, in seated areas not designed to accommodate standing.
Seating has never been compulsory in Scottish football, and last month the Scottish Premier League positively invited applications from clubs to introduce safe standing areas. All the SPL clubs, including Celtic and Rangers, have been positive about doing so, with Neil Doncaster, the SPL chief executive, saying: “I do expect to receive applications, including from Celtic and Rangers, as early as this summer, and the rail system has the most chance of being approved.”
Peter Daykin, of the FSF, pointed to St Helens opening a new stadium for this 2012 Super League season, incorporating large standing areas, and said: “We hope football’s status as a pariah sport is coming to an end. Our members have always been overwhelmingly in favour of safe standing areas.”
A Premier League spokesman said it remains the league’s position that stadiums should be all-seat, in line with government policy. “If Aston Villa want to explore safe standing and bring it forward as an issue, we welcome the debate around the table,” he said.
As Newcastle fans, the question will then have to be –if it is deemed safe to stand at a rugby league ground, German clubs have proved it in stadiums with much bigger capacities than most Premier League grounds, now Scotland are almost certain to see it introduced, why not in the Premier League?
If it is safe, will clearly make for a better atmosphere, increase capacity and bring cheaper prices…then surely it is a no-brainer. Especially for those of us who remember all the massive plus points of standing on the terraces.
Justice Taylor never envisaged something like the Premier League, which despite generating untold riches would still charge widespread horrific prices, out of reach for so many.
Would you like to stand, or like me are you quite happy to sit now but would love others (especially those crazy kids!) to have the opportunity so many of us had back in the day?
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