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Last week saw an email appear in my email inbox from the Downing Street petitions website regarding the Right to Stand petition calling for a return to safe standing at football matches in the top two divisions of English football. As any who knows anything in this area, standing terraces were abolished in all stadia in the Premier League and what is now the Championship, in the aftermath to the Hillsborough disaster. I state that, at the time, this move was right, as a measure to ensure proper crowd control and maintain the safety of those thousands that attend football matches in this country.

However, football has changed considerably since 1989 and it is the time to look at reinstating safe standing terraces. The government response claims that the all seater policy was the crucial factor in maintaining the safety of football supporters. This is a response that both ignores what the petition has to say and ignores all the other factors that led both to the disasters of the 1980s. Along with the subsequent improvement in safety and the behaviour of British football fans, it neglects to even recognise many of the other factors involved in incidents such as Hillsborough and Heysal. It neglects to mention the attitude of the authorities towards football supports, the behaviour of the supporters and the condition of the stadia in those respective tragedies.

Taking the latter point as an example, it is a significantly higher factor than the fact that the fact that the supporters were stood upright. Heysal in Belgium was a decrepit old lump of a stadium and the obsession with fencing in the 1980s were far more crucial factors in the tragic events, which are ignored in the government response. The other factor ignored is the behaviour of the supporters in both incidents. The charging towards the Juventus fans and the Liverpool supporters travelling without a ticket and charging the decrepit turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough were the inciting incidents of both tragedies. Had those two acts not have occurred neither tragedy would have occurred. Furthermore, what is rarely mentioned when Hillsborough is discussed is why Hillsborough was being used in the first place. In previous seasons Highbury had been used to host FA cup semi-finals, but lost this status after Arsenal refused to erect fences after a series of pitch invasions in the mid-1980s. A point that Nick Hornby makes well in Fever Pitch. The point that Hornby makes, after he himself was involved a pitch invasion from Highbury’s North Bank terrace. Here a surge at the top of the stand resulted in him being forced onto the advertising hordings and inevitably onto the pitch. The point he highlights is that had there been Hillsborough style fences they would have been in serious trouble. Here we have the same incident, as at Hillsborough and the only difference being the absence of fences, thus they were safe.

Furthermore the much-quoted Taylor Report did not call for the all-seater policy and stated that standing is not intrinsically unsafe. The condition of football stadia and the behaviour of supporters have improved immeasurably since 1989 and these are the biggest factors in such incidents not recurring. With these factors, I believe that we now have the infrastructure to re-introduce safe standing terraces in football stadia across the Championship and Premier League. Standing is an intrinsic part of British footballing culture and crucial in maintaining its atmosphere and thus its identity. The example of German stadia shows that it is possible to introduce safe standing terraces, aligned with proper ticketing and proper stewarding, to maintain the safety and experience of attending British football matches.

As a staunch Labour party supporter, there is another factor that dismays me in the government’s response and that it implies that they are listening whilst ignoring what is said. This is exactly the sort of act that distances people from politics and diminishes public trust in politicians. Anyone who signed the petition and has been involved in discussing the issues will be aware of the points I raise, none of which are acknowledged in their response. The only point it addresses is the issue of ticket pricing and claims that safe terracing would not reduce prices. The government cannot control ticket prices, but it can, if it wanted to, start a return to safe terracing and it clearly has no interest in the campaign. A return to safe terracing would undoubtedly be extremely popular. In the aftermath of the Labour Party’s worst opinion poll in two decades it is dismaying that an area where they could substantially improve the situation is ignored.

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