One of the most shocking days I have spent in a football ground was at Highbury as news gradually filtered through of what exactly had happened at Hillsborough on that fateful day.
Happily football grounds, including St.James’ Park, are much safer places these days as the police have largely got their act together, grounds are better designed and some would argue, thanks also to the introduction of all-seater stadiums.
A report released by IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) argues against the reintroduction of safe standing at English top level grounds.
At no point though do they explain why they aren’t therefore arguing for similar stringent measures at Rugby League grounds, or the success of standing areas in Germany with regard to fan choice, prices and atmosphere.
Similarly, while the views of Liverpool fans quite naturally should be respected, it is totally unbalanced to not have a pro-standing viewpoint included as well as the anti-stance of the Hillsborough Family Group.
The IOSH Report:
Sports fans should be seated to watch games at large stadia, a leading health and safety body warned today (22 February), as a new poll revealed one in three people had been caught up in a crowd surge at a major sporting or music event.
Of the 3,000 surveyed by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), 34 percent said they had experienced a crowd surge or collapse – where people push forward en masse.
As the debate continues surrounding the reintroduction of terracing at top-flight football grounds, IOSH said terraces should not be reintroduced in Championship and Premier League football stadia – a call backed today by the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
Group chair of IOSH, John Holden, said: “Safe seating should be provided wherever possible instead of standing areas to prevent any chance of crowd surges.
“While smaller terraces may pose less of a risk, it’s a known fact that it’s safer to sit than stand, especially where large numbers of people are in the same area. By allowing people to sit down they have their own safety-zone in which they can safely support their team without the threat of being pushed, trampled on or crushed.
Only 43 percent interviewed in the poll said enough had been done to improve health and safety in sports stadia since the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, in which 96 football fans died.
At the end of December it was announced that the Scottish Premier League had been given the green light to pilot safe-standing areas within their stadiums.
Mr Holden added: “This is a big decision to have made and safety needs to remain paramount.
“Since the banning of terraces in the Championship and Premier League, there have been no reoccurrences, thank goodness, of the devastating scenes we saw during the football disasters of the 80s.
“Where terraces exist, stadium and health and safety managers, need to ensure they’re designed to the specifications set-out in the industry’s Green Guide – it’s vital that these terraces are maintained to the highest possible standard, to ensure spectators aren’t exposed to unnecessary risk.”
In 1989, 96 people were killed and 766 injured at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground as a result of poor crowd control among other factors. The disaster lead to the Taylor report and terracing being banned from larger football stadiums.
The Hillsborough Family Support Group – families of a number of the victims of the disaster – believes that “under no circumstances” should terracing be reintroduced.
Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, who lost her 18-year-old son James in the tragedy, said: “There should be no terracing brought back to English League football.
“We’ve moved on since the 80s when football fans were treated like cattle. Fans feel safer and families can go to games, and be 99.9 percent certain they will go home safe – the legacy left behind by the deaths at Hillsborough is everyone’s safety.
“Those who want to forget what happened could end up reliving it again if standing was brought back. Why would people want to take 10 steps back, when sports ground safety has now gone forwards.
“This is not an emotional mother speaking – it’s too late for our 96. This is about being a mother and having grandchildren and looking after their future.”