DCSIMG

Hillsborough support group angered by campaign for standing

Doncaster Rovers chief executive Gavin Baldwin at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Doncaster Rovers chief executive Gavin Baldwin at the Keepmoat Stadium.

The families of the Hillsborough victims today condemned a campaign to try to reintroduce standing at football matches.

Margaret Aspinall is chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group and her son James, 18, was among the 96 people who died at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium in April 1989,

She believes standing should be unthinkable despite the growing campaign spearheaded by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) for safe standing.

Mrs Aspinall, who notes there were several issues behind the Hillsborough tragedy, said: “There are 96 reasons why it should not be allowed.

“There were 96 dead at Hillsborough and it could have been a lot more.

“Standing should never, ever come back. I do not think there is anything safe about standing.

“I feel insulted that while people are trying to fight for justice for Hillsborough, that this campaign is growing now.”

The FSF’s Safe Standing Campaign is supported by Aston Villa, Brentford, Bristol City, Burnley, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, Derby County, Doncaster Rovers, Hull City, Peterborough United, Watford, AFC Wimbledon, the Scottish Premier League, the Safe Standing Roadshow and Stand Up Sit Down.

It aims to persuade the Government, football authorities and clubs to accept the case for introducing, on a trial basis, limited sections for standing at selected grounds in the stadiums of Premier League and Championship football clubs.

Annoucning the club’s support last month, Gavin Baldwin, chief executive of Doncaster Rovers, said: “During the 2006/07 season Doncaster Rovers moved into an all-seater stadium and since that time the club have implemented a no standing policy at home games. After continued dialogue with supporters through our fan engagement programme, In Rovers We Trust, it has become clear that a selection of supporters do wish to stand at matches.

“The club believe that the creation of a safe standing area at the ground would allow these supporters to stand in a safe, controlled environment and allow them to have a match day experience that suits their needs. The club believe the creation of a safe standing area would also be of benefit to other fans at the ground who do not wish to stand, but sometimes are compelled at games due to having their view restricted due to people in front of them who attempt to.

“We lend our support to the Football Supporters’ Federation in their request for trials for safe standing systems.”

So far 52 MPs have backed an early day motion (EDM) tabled by Roger Godsiff, the MP for Birmingham Hall Green, on October 15 2012.

It calls for the introduction of a pilot of new standing technology - called rail seats - at football grounds.

Rail seats, which are widely used in Germany, are robust metal seats with a high back including a sturdy rail that fans can hold. The seats can fold up flush and be locked between the uprights creating wider clearways than along rows of normal seats.

Aston Villa and Peterborough United have already agreed to a small scale trial of the technology.

This is a safer option than what is currently happening at football grounds where swathes of fans choose to stand during matches, campaigners argue.

It could be a safer way to help manage crowds when spectators do not listen to calls by ground staff and stewards to sit down, they claim.

Football clubs, safety experts, police officers, academics and football supporters came to Westminster today to meet MPs and ask them to support a small-scale trial of safe standing areas in the Premier League and Championship.

Peterborough United chief executive Bob Symns, who attended the conference at the House of Commons, said it was a matter of choice and in the modern-day age of new technology this may be the safe way forward.

On the Hillsborough family response and the introduction of all-seater stadia after the tragedy, he said: “I have no problem with that - it was a reaction which I respect because they wanted to do something.

“I would say to you that if rail seats had been available at that time, could we not think that could have been the preferred option?

“It has since been shown that it was fans standing up that was responsible for the Hillsborough disaster and it was certainly a disaster.”

Mr Symns said he “completely respects” the opinions of the Hillsborough families and other people in the game who may have reservations.

He said he “understands their opinion” as he has been at grounds facing crowd issues.

“With the greatest of respect, I think this is something new. What I am asking is that this be piloted. This is about choice. This will be for football clubs who are interested in it,” he said.

“We can pull all the evidence together. If a football club and their supporters are interested in it, then we should trial it.

“We are not going back to standing stadia. We are talking about democratic choice for the game we love. Many people want to stand.”

Mr Symns suggested that a trial at Peterborough’s 15,000-capacity ground, which still has terracing, would be at the home end and made available to about 2,000 season ticket holders.

He noted the rail seats are all numbered.

Mr Symns said: “Everybody would be identifiable and it would be a safe area. I am sure that it will be used by families, women, children and senior citizens.”

The reintroduction of standing at football grounds should be seen alongside other hi-tech developments in recent years, such as goal-line technology, 4G pitch preservation systems and improved access control, according to Mr Symns.

Better stewarding and stadium design than was available in the 1980s is also helping to make grounds safer, according to Superintendent Steven Graham of the West Midlands Police.

He said no link could be made between hooliganism and standing stadia, as the fan who threw a coin at Rio Ferdinand during the weekend’s heated Manchester derby was in a seated area at the Etihad Stadium.

Introducing rail seating would not “roll back” British football to the hooliganism-scarred days of the 1980s, he suggested.

His belief is that police commanders “would not be riddled with fear” if they were policing a ground that had standing seats.

He argued: “We have got very little experience of what standing would look like in a 21st century football ground in the UK. We have experience of it from the 1980’s in the UK and we have experiences of it today in Germany.

“We are not proposing tearing up football grounds.

“We need to start gathering some data so that people in the industry can make decisions to give supporters the best customer experience.”

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) needs to be convinced that a move towards standing would enhance safety and security but they are willing to be part of talks about the issue, a spokesman told the meeting.

He also noted that not all people in Germany are supportive of standing facilities at sports grounds.

The FSF says football has changed dramatically since the Taylor Report first recommended all-seated stadia in 1990, but one thing that has not changed is the desire from supporters to stand.

While standing is officially banned throughout the Premier League and Championship, the reality is very different, they claim.

A campaign spokesman said: “Week in, week out football supporters stand in their thousands at top level English football, all of them in accommodation that is unfit for purpose and usually to the detriment of other fans who prefer, or are forced, to sit.

“Meanwhile technology has moved on apace and we see fans across the globe - in Germany, Norway, Sweden and the USA - standing safely in properly designed and managed areas, paying lower prices and generating better atmospheres. In short, England and Wales are being left behind.

“Nobody associated with the Football Supporters’ Federation’s safe standing campaign wants to return to life on the terraces of the 1980s.

“Looking to the future, there’s a tremendous opportunity to solve some of the profound problems in the modern game by introducing new standing technology.”

 

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