Once again, we find ourselves faced with an increasingly acrimonious debate about the issue of safe standing following the decision of the Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch, to reject West Bromwich Albion’s application to install a safe standing area at the Hawthorns.
This is, of course, a major setback for club’s, like City, who were keen to follow in Albion’s footsteps.
As you will probably be aware, the three MPs covering Norwich have all visited Carrow Road in recent months to discuss the issue and look at the Club’s plans for introducing safe standing in the Lower Barclay, before throwing their support behind the idea and lobbying Crouch.
It is also probably worth pointing out, for those who aren’t already aware, that safe standing is nothing like a return to the days of Heysel and Hillsborough. Safe standing areas have rigid rails both in front of and behind each space (which has exactly the same dimensions as a seat) to which bolt-on plastic seats can be added or removed in the case of games (such as European competition ties) where an all-seater rule applies.
Sadly, Crouch appears to be happy to ignore this, as well as the advice of safety officers that she herself had a hand in appointing.
In the case of West Brom, the plan was submitted by the deputy chair of the Football Safety Officers Association and backed by the club’s Safety Advisory Group – members of which include representatives of West Midlands Police and of the Government’s own national stadium safety body, the Sports Ground Safety Authority – so her rejection made little sense.
Crouch’s response to the furore that accompanied her decision did little to pour on oil on troubled waters: “The answer to dealing with persistent standing is not necessarily to introduce safe standing.
“There are regulations to deal with persistent standing – I would like to see them enforced.
“I get as many messages from people asking me to deal with persistent standing as I get from people asking me to introduce safe standing.”
There are two points here. The first is that, yes, there are regulations to force people to sit and have been for 15 years. However, the fact is that they are routinely flouted at every single ground at every single game, so much so that stewards have largely given up trying to enforce them, and that leads directly onto the second point.
It is annoying for people who have paid to sit, and wish to do so, or, indeed, are incapable of standing for 90 minutes to have their view obscured by those who insist on standing, and I therefore don’t doubt for a moment that Crouch receives as many letters about that issue as she does in support of safe standing.
However, what is remarkable to me, given her position, is that she totally fails to understand that the solution to both those issues is exactly the same, i.e. the introduction of safe standing areas which will ensure that those who want to stand can do so without destroying the enjoyment of those that want to sit.
While I appreciate that such a move would involve some people being moved to different sections to remain seated, surely that is a better option than to continue to have their view obstructed?
Of course, as Crouch points out the other solution is to stringently enforce the all seater rule, but we are not talking about a handful of people here, we are talking about thousands. Has Crouch ever spent time with stewards at a league ground and seen the abuse that they receive or the way in which they are routinely ignored by fans who know they have safety in numbers? It just won’t work.
The problem is, and Crouch has been warned of this by the same experts, it’s only a matter of time before we see a serious incident as a direct result of people standing in seated areas, something that I’m well aware of from my own experiences, having nearly been pitched headfirst into a four-foot deep concrete channel at Rotherham by a crowd surge.
The fact is that standing with a low seat back in front of you is highly dangerous as being knocked forward, which can frequently happen in an excitable crowd, can easily result in someone being pitched into the row ahead.
Ken Scott, the chief inspector of the Sports Ground Safety Authority, admitted back in September that attempts over 15 years to enforce the all-seater policy brought in by the Government following the Hillsborough disaster were “not working”, that the problem was “getting worse”, and that so-called safe-standing areas would be “safer”.
He’s an accredited expert on the matter yet Crouch clearly thinks that she knows better. Let’s hope that no-one suffers death or serious injury as a result.