Safe Standing – Pushing Shit Up Jimmy Hill…
On the assumption that some people reading this may choose to jump all over me claiming I’m trying to argue against safe standing, I should probably make it clear now that I am very much in favour of safe standing. However, as much as I am glad to be convinced otherwise, I just can’t see it happening. Here’s some reasons why;
The spectre of Hillsborough
I don’t believe that anyone interested in the safe standing debate cannot see where the Hillsborough families are coming from with their anti stance. They lost their loved ones on a terrace. A mortally overcrowded, ill-policed, crumbling terrace in a pre-Taylor Report football ground devoid of most if not all of the safety components that make up modern ‘stadia’. No one expects the Hillsborough families to put their time and energy into supporting a return to standing areas in football ground but the loss of their loved ones should not give them a louder voice than the growing, passionate number of people who want to see a return to standing. Unfortunately, however, images of people dying at that game in 1989 will be used to remind everyone that people can die on terraces and life and death will ultimately take precedence over people’s enjoyment. Those making the decisions to allow safe standing areas will focus their minds on what could go wrong (and how they could end up in court is being sued) rather than how the experience of watching football (which is mainly shite) can be improved.
What’s their incentive? They’ll need to put millions into changing existing seated areas into safe standing areas. They’ll need to possibly reduce the numbers of people who can access a currently seated area of the ground once it is returned to terracing. For clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool and United, who rely on and indeed can fill every seat, that’s a non-starter. <deletes predictable line about Manchester City perhaps having this luxury of space>. What do they get out of it? They don’t recognise that the atmosphere inside grounds has become sanitised and more akin to a West End show than the tribal din we all long for a return to. Most of those who own or are in charge of the larger football clubs probably believe that the atmosphere at football is just fine because they see people enjoying “the best league in the world” and any problems are confined to places well away from their “product”. Why the fuck would they want to invite rowdy folk back into what is now their domain, where the biggest off-field talking point is Managers finger-pointing at each other from either side of the fourth official? They certainly won’t be able to get away with increasing ticket prices (who the fuck am I kidding, eh?) to pay for their investment in safe standing so why on earth would they take money out of theirs or their shareholders pockets to make our Saturday afternoons (or mornings or Sundays or Monday nights) any more enjoyable? Write down a list now of the football club Execs who’ll make such an investment of their cash on your behalf. It won’t take you long.
There is a widely held view amongst football fans that the police are on a good number when it comes to their powers at football and the money they receive – or rather demand – to police games. They have far-reaching powers to inhibit movement, to stop and search and, with help from the courts and backing from the media, impose Draconian punishments for the most minor offences which can in any way be linked to attending a football game. Just look at the numbers of police on duty at Old Trafford when United play, say, Fulham or Southampton. Hundreds of police officers being paid to essentially direct traffic and take cans of warm lager off people. Yes, the job of policing West Ham v Millwall must be a testing one. Yes, I can see why you might need to keep United and Liverpool fans apart but for the most part the police at football have it easy and at their hands football fans have it hard. So how will safe standing affect them? How quickly are they going to sign up to a pro safe standing agenda which may see people in their teens and twenties (largely male) replace parents in their thirties and forties with two or three kids in tow? In my opinion, they’re not. They’re going to do everything they can to make sure their contribution to this debate protects what they have currently, which is by and large an easy ride paid for by the UK tax payer and football fans who have no choice in the matter.
The political will of football fans
For me, this is perhaps the biggest worry. I remain to be convinced that there is enough political will amongst supporters to properly force the safe standing debate to happen. Are there enough people left who go watching the bigger clubs (and by that I mean those who will have possibly the loudest voice and the greater overall numbers to make a difference) that have the organisation skills and support of their peers to conduct a campaign that looks at the many, many positive reasons why safe standing would do loads for our game? Are there too many who have taken up season ticket quotas at clubs who like the sanitised atmosphere of football in 2012 and are there enough who remain, bolstered by enough of those who have left but who may come back, to make the football authorities properly consider their argument? I foresee an engineered debate. One in which “we” do get our say but are ultimately shouted down by people with more political and constitutional power or those, like the Hillsborough families, who get the ear of more neutral onlookers. I can only form a view based on my own experiences watching football and being involved in the politics of football and I know that many people have grown tired of trying to fight for their game. Yes, there are great fan-driven success stories like FC United and AFC Wilmbledon and long may they prosper, but ticket prices are rising, treatment of supporters is getting harsher and the experience of actually going to the match for a huge number of working people is either too expensive or just too much of an un-enjoyable chore.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing would give me greater pleasure (football wise) than seeing a successful return to safe standing. I think terracing would become a place where football fans could mobilise and take back our game piece by piece. I think terracing would provide a better atmosphere. I’d hope it would provide more affordable football. Overall, I think it would stop the experiencing of actually watching football being quite shit. I support it 100% and hope it happens but I think the task of actually making it happen is a tougher one than most think.
To add your voice to the growing number of those who support a return to standing, follow this link to the Football Supporters Federation’s petitions: http://www.fsf.org.uk/petitions/view/support-safe-standing