The lack of safe standing areas in our football stadiums means fans are denied the choices on offer to those who follow other sports, so says Andrew RT Davies AM - Leader of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly for Wales. His arguments have won cross-party approval and he believes Welsh fans have a key role in making Westminster listen.
Football supporters are denied the choice offered to their counterparts in other sports.
Across the UK, thousands of sports fans at rugby union, rugby league, horse racing and countless other major events opt to stand up whilst enjoying the action every single week.
This offers the opportunity to stand with large groups of friends, often with cheaper ticket prices; extending the event's scope to wider sections of society. The same choice is offered to football fans in England & Wales who follow many clubs in Football Leagues One & Two, the English pyramid and the Welsh Premier League. Clubs such as Wrexham, Bangor City and Newport County could or actually do offer a choice to sit or stand.
The same, of course, applies to gigs and concerts.
However, if you support a football club in either the Premier League or Football League Championship, ground regulations prohibit standing and Government rules forbid terraced areas . This includes Cardiff City in my own electoral region, and neighbouring Swansea City.
This is at odds with the wishes of many supporters, many of whom I count as constituents.
The Football Supporters’ Federation has found that nine out of ten fans support having the choice to stand; whilst, furthermore, both Swansea City and Cardiff City – as well as a host of other clubs - have offered their backing to the FSF’s Safe Standing Campaign.
Safe standing areas are operational and working well at top-flight football across other parts of the world. In Germany for example, modern-day terraces grace the Bundesliga and reviews have been fantastic.
The 1989 Hillsborough disaster is often highlighted by those arguing against safe standing – and, of course, that is completely understandable.
The death of 96 people following the disaster at the Leppings Lane End at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium was a devastating tragedy. Consequently, a much-needed inquiry into crowd control and safety at sports events was undertaken by Lord Justice Taylor.
However, the FSF cites findings from the late Lord Taylor and the Hillsborough Independent Panel which suggest the tragedy was caused by issues such as overcrowding, flawed policing and poor stadium maintenance – and not because of standing.
Lord Taylor’s report, following the disaster, also cited evidence from a Technical Working Party, set-up to assist his inquiry, which stated that “standing accommodation is not intrinsically unsafe”.
Of course, we must never act flippantly in the interests of public safety – and, thankfully, much-needed, vital improvements to our stadia followed Lord Taylor’s findings in his interim and final reports.
However, evidence from the continent, the much-changed nature of the game and modern ticketing and safety mechanisms means standing can now offer a safe, viable alternative at all levels of football. Football has changed dramatically over the years – and there is much to celebrate about the modern game.
The game is more inclusive. The demographic of supporters at Cardiff City, for example, is radically different now to what it was a number of years ago. Football’s popularity undoubtedly makes a key contribution to the Welsh and wider British economy. Swansea City’s first season in the top-flight has reportedly generated £58million for the local economy and South Wales Chamber of Commerce director Graham Morgan states that incredible contribution exceeded all expectations.
However, there are also problems. Tradition is often left behind and supporter loyalty disregarded. Ticket prices, very often, are extortionate – pricing out many traditional supporters. Fans too often feel their voices are ignored, and an increasing number feel alienated.
As a Conservative, I am passionate about local empowerment and choice – and felt the current regulations, in the context of the much-changed modern game – were quite simply unfair. That unfairness – and the fact this issue means a lot to many people - is why I decided to take this issue forward at the National Assembly for Wales.
I was pleased to initiate the tabling of an Individual Members debate motion on the issue – which was co-signed by Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Jenkins, Labour’s Ann Jones and Lib Dem Peter Black. The fact this issue carries cross-party support in Wales is a massively important.
I was overwhelmed by the response to proposing this motion. Football supporters from across Wales sent their best wishes, and fans flocked to forums to back the idea. Sadly, the Business Committee decided against selecting the motion for debate – but the very fact it was tabled got people talking, and highlighted the role of Wales in this important debate.
A statement of opinion has also been tabled – which is gathering support at an impressive pace, and can be viewed here. I’d urge any football fans in Wales backing the campaign to request that their AM signs up.
Competency for this issue does not, of course, lie with the National Assembly for Wales. Section 11 of the Football Spectators Act 1989 currently dictates the law in relation to standing at football matches in England and Wales; a law decided at a Westminster level.
However, Assembly Members, Welsh football clubs competing in the English pyramid and – most crucially – football supporters in Wales can play a significant role in lobbying the UK Government and football authorities for a change in the law.
The louder the voice for safe standing, the more likely that change will come.
The appetite is there – so let’s stand up for standing!
Andrew RT Davies AM is Leader of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly for Wales.
Thanks to Jon Darch for the safe standing image used in this article taken in Klagenfurt, Austria (UEFA Euro 2008 venue).
The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author – they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn’t be attributed to the FSF.