Standing / Stewards / FLA

Posted by BHB on March 20, 2008, 10:40:55 PM

"The atmosphere inside Anfield is absolutely electric tonight. Magnificent support, roaring on their side and frightening the life out of the opposition, a real 12th man"

You then have the players, the manager and the chairmen coming out in the aftermath with things like, "The supporters were fantastic tonight and made a real difference to the team" and "That's why our fans are the best in the world" and other such clichés.

Then in the aftermath of a subdued league game, the argument usually rears it's head surrounding the atmosphere not being as good as it was now the seats have gone in. To which the media and the like respond with, "Anfield was as loud as it's ever been the other night, and that is now an all seater stadium" - but never mentioning the fact that over 20,000 fans inside the ground on that night had stood for 90 minutes. It is constantly unreported and unnoticed in the media.

The clubs and the authorities love to use images of fans with flags, scarves and colour to promote their "brand". They use "the 12th man" labels to praise the fans and continue to state how much they help the side. But....

Then you get the other side of the coin, the prime example recently being the United fans criticised by Alex Ferguson for being quite in a run of the mill league game at Old Trafford. For those that don't know, United have a section in the Upper Stretford End that stand for 90 minutes, week in, week out. Around 4,000 of them up there. A hell of a lot more stand all game for the big games. And when Ferguson criticised the atmosphere, he was told why - due to the over aggressive stewarding and "police state" in forcing fans to sit for the lesser games.

Ferguson praised the away support United have then compared it to their home support. Not once did he mention their away support stood for 90 minutes at every game.

There seems to be a complete media ban on any reporting or a promotion of standing to support you team. It's censored. It must be, or are those people in the media and public eye completely oblivious to what goes on in the stands?

Maybe they should try and stand with us one game? Come to the back of the Kop and in amongst us. Witness first hand how we try to support the side, all stood behind our allocated seats and trying to prevent Anfield from becoming a morgue. As with everyone sat down in their seats like good little boys and girls, that's exactly what you'll get. They only seem to want our support when it suits them. They'd soon be up in arms if we all sat down in silence on a big European night when our support was needed more than ever. Or how about if we'd all sat down in the Ataturk and watched the second half in silence. Do you really think we'd have won that European Cup without our entire support standing and getting behind the side like we did? No chance.

In pretty much every ground in the country, apart from maybe Goodison and one or two others without a standing culture, there are large sections of home fans standing for 90 minutes, week in, week out. You then have the majority of away followings that stand for 90 minutes. West Ham have around 8000 standing every week, Tottenham around 7000, Arsenal about 2000, Man City around 4000, United around 4000, Chelsea around 1000, Newcastle around 800 - and the list goes on. We have 12,500 standing for our big games and European nights, yet when around 500 or so of us try and stand for bog standard league games at the back of the Kop, and try to create a bit of atmosphere, we're clamped down on and told to sit. It's pathetic.

I've been involved in a hell of a lot of research into the standing issue recently. And the more you look into it, the more and more the legislation in place looks like complete unsubstantiated nonsense. Legislation that is enforced by the Football Licensing Authority (FLA), working with the local councils responsible for the safety certificate for each football ground within their borough, who in turn pressurise those clubs to enforce the FLA legislation.

"Persistent standing is not allowed" - can somebody please define persistent standing? Is it for 2 minutes? 20 minutes? 2 hours? If I stand for 20 minutes then sit down for 5 seconds, is that still persistent standing, as I've broke up that period of standing?

"Standing is acceptable during moments of excitement" - what exactly is a "moment of excitement? A goal? A free kick on the edge of the box? A corner? I was asked to sit down the other week when we had a free kick on the edge of the box, if that's not a goal scoring opportunity and a "moment of excitement", then what is? The whole game is a "moment of excitement" to me. I wait all week for the game, and the entire 90 minutes are exciting. Who can tell me otherwise and stand up in court and prove it is not?

Trafford Borough Council contacted Manchester United a few years ago, stating that they were in breech of their ground regulations and safety certificate, as they had fans persistently standing in the upper Stretford End. They issued the club with a threat to revoke their safety certificate and close the stand in question. United then said "see you in court".

In order for a stand to be closed, or any action of that kind to take place, the authorities must prove in court that the action being taken is in proportion to the risks involved. Something they will never be able to do. Fans have been standing persistently in all seater grounds for years, with constant threats of stand closures. Nobody has been injured and there is not one single piece of evidence to suggest standing it more dangerous than sitting. No way to prove that the proposed closure of the stand is in proportion to the risks. There are no evidence of risks to present! Not one threat of closure has been enforced yet, and never will be. Some clubs seem to ignore the guidelines and allow their fans to stand, see the numbers standing in the paragraphs above. Other clubs pick and chose when they want their fans to stand. Every club could ignore the FLA and local council. Their legislation holds no weight or substance. It's almost make believe.

Man City's safety manager - their Ged Poynton if you like - made a statement last summer, that the club have created a singing section in the lower tier next to the away fans, and he will NOT be asking stewards to enforce them to sit. They'll be left alone to stand, as there is no safety risk with standing in lower tiers. He is 100% correct. And every game this season, City fans have stood all game, every game with no hassle from stewards. There has been no closure of the stand or threat of that from the FLA. They know they can't win. If only every club had a stadium manager like the one at Man City.

United commissioned a report into standing within their ground on the back of the threats they received from Trafford Borough Council. An independent safety "risk assessment" into the dangers of standing in their stadium. The report found that standing when entering the ground, up and down the aisles to the concourse at half time and full time, and during goal celebrations and moments of excitement - were all far more "dangerous" and likely to cause injury than standing during passive play behind an allocated seat. The FLA state the opposite within their legislation. As unless they escorted every fan to their seats individually from the turnstile, and installed seat belts on each seat - it's impossible to enforce. The standing during play issue is something they can target. It all starts to become that little bit more clear...

Trafford Borough Council and the FLA were presented with this report and it's findings as part of United's evidence to present as their defence in court. Trafford Borough Council and the FLA dropped the case and the report has been swept under the carpet. Read into that what you will.

The clubs and the authorities need to make up their minds - do they want fans to be vocal and passionate in their stadiums? Or do they want us all sat there in silence? Which image better promotes their brand? I think we all know.

This is not the 80's anymore. There are not crumbling terraces with fans caged in by fences. There are not pay on the gate turnstiles with no restriction on how many fans are on that terrace, other than closing the gates when "it looks full to me". Football today is on a completely different level. There are no fences, there are no cages. There are strict ticket inspection procedures in place. Numbers of fans in each section of the ground carefully controlled with strict ticketing procedures. It's not even close to being like it was back then. And certainly nothing to do with standing that would result in fans being at risk. Crowd control techniques and the facilities are now on a completely different level. Technology and the game has moved on - it's about time the FLA did the same.

One read through the FLA's legislation and guidelines around standing is enough to make you shake your head constantly for the hour or so you'll be reading it. It's about time this legislation was given a wider audience and debated in public. As at the minute, nobody is allowed to challenge the FLA's stance. It's a closed shop. That has to change.

There is no evidence whatsoever that standing is a safety risk. The FLA have been asked to provide it. They never have. Lord Justice Taylor conducted an in depth investigation into Hillsborough and concluded that "standing is not unsafe" and no blame for Hillsborough can lie at the feet of standing to watch a football match.

Then we come to the most ridiculous part of the legislation. The ruling that states we cannot stand in The Premier League, The Championship or in UEFA Competitions - but those in League's One and Two are allowed to stand.

So by the FLA's reasons for us not being allowed to stand - it is unsafe for us to do so - then how is it safe for Peterborough fans to stand in League Two, but if promoted to The Championship in the future, it will then be deemed unsafe for them to stand? Why is it Cardiff fans were deemed to be standing safely when in league one - but now they are in the Championship, in the same ground, according to the FLA legislation - they are now at risk as standing is unsafe in that division? It's complete madness.

The likes of Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Dortmund stand en-masse in safe standing areas for all their domestic games without a problem. But as soon as they play in a UEFA competition, their stands have to be converted into seated areas, reducing their capacities by up to 15,000 - yet they still stand in those areas anyway, just as we do on The Kop. All the Italian stadiums are classed as all-seater, with the seats consisting of those "arse-print" style bench seats in the stands - which the vocal fans ignore and stand throughout every game.

The more you think about it, the more frustrating and ridiculous it becomes. It's absolutely scandalous that it's gone on this long.

It's about time it changed.


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