Standing Up for Safe Standing

BARRY Town fans had a memorable season after their beloved club was saved from extinction at the 11th hour.

Half an hour up the M4, Newport County returned to the Football league after a long spell in the non-league pyramid, whilst Cardiff City had a brief but fleetingly exciting spell in the Premier League. Exciting times for Welsh football.

But what do fans of these teams have in common, apart from deep pockets and a shared love of the beautiful game? They all have the option of standing to watch their team’s games - except at Cardiff, where it is ‘technically’ illegal for fans to enjoy the match on their feet.

This ruling is a result of the Taylor Report in 1989, which required all stadiums in the top two divisions of professional football to be ‘all-seater’.

After the Hillsborough tragedy steps were taken to make stadiums safer and to prevent a repeat of the scenes which cost so many fans their lives. A generation ago football stadiums were very different places; known for crowd violence, crumbling into dangerous decay and just about the least family friendly environments you could imagine.

It might have seemed sensible at the time to ban standing areas in football stadiums – seating not only made it impossible to overcrowd an area, it made it easier to police fans, with CCTV enabling police to identify them individually too. But the so-called ‘English Disease’ is a thing of the past and it no longer makes sense to stigmatise football fans.

How can it be safe to stand at the rugby, but not at football matches? Why are race courses and concerts treated differently to football stadiums? Both can be equally crowded, both serve alcohol – but punters at Chepstow Racecourse are trusted to stand safely, whilst Cardiff or Swansea fans are ‘protected’ by an antiquated law that says more about the way we view football fans than it does about how we deal with crowd safety.

Local residents who have been to watch Cardiff City play in recent seasons will be aware of the arrangements in the Canton Stand ‘singing section’, where standing is tolerated in one area – but not explicitly legal. I visited the stadium back in March and was impressed with the arrangements in place there.

Rather than having to skirt around regulations it should be possible to have designated sections for those fans who wish to stand and I support a limited trial of safe standing areas in Premier League Grounds.

This week I hosted a cross-party Safe Standing Roadshow at the National Assembly to highlight this issue. Legislation governing standing is a confusing mess – drafted in a different era, to address a different set of problems, in the shadow of and shaped by a national tragedy. I think we need to accept that we’ve all moved on and start treating football fans with a little more respect.