The safe standing debate seems to have rumbled on forever with little in the way of resolution but that could be about to change.
As most of you will be aware various representatives of the Club and supporter groups went down to Westminster last week for a meeting with Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport, making City the first football club to be granted an audience with her, something that we would not have achieved without the influence of Ed Balls.
Ed receives a fair amount of stick on social media for his various other activities, albeit usually from people who don’t understand what a non-executive position entails or can’t see past his political affiliations but, in reality, his profile and contacts are of real value on occasions such as these.
It was also a great help to have the data provided by Andy Batley, the Stadium Safety, Security and Counter-Terrorism Manager at the meeting, as well as the input of Ffion Thomas of Capital Canaries (and a regular writer for When Saturday Comes), who has visited over 500 grounds in the UK and Europe.
The involvement of local MPs Clive Lewis and Norman Lamb was also important, with Chloe Smith being prevented from attending by a prior engagement.
Tracey Crouch herself is an interesting character. A lifelong Spurs fan, she is also an FA qualified football coach and manager of a youth girls’ team, so has a real feeling for the game, which is vitally important in this instance. Had she simply been a politician briefed by civil servants I’m not sure that she would have been as open-minded because maintaining the status quo is clearly the safe option from a political perspective.
However, as a fan herself she has first-hand experience of what actually goes on in stadia on every matchday and made a number of very acute observations of her own.
We had expected that she might stick to the public remarks that she had made several months earlier to the effect that the fact that the law allowed stewards to eject persistent standers was quite sufficient, but in fact she fully accepted that the reality is that regardless of what the law states every Saturday sees several thousand fans standing in seating areas in every Premier League and EFL ground and that the issue needs to be addressed.
It’s probably worth digressing at this point for the benefit of those who still think that the safe standing movement are pushing for a return to the pre-Hillsborough version of open terraces, and with apologies to those who are already au fait with the situation.
What is being talked about are rail seats; removable seats with a barrier behind them and a barrier in front to ensure that crowd surges cannot happen. In Europe and particularly Germany these are used as standing for domestic games with the seats lifted up and as seating for European competitions where 100% seating is still a legal requirement.
The standing to seating ratio is 1:1 so avoiding overcrowding and it is now generally accepted that this system is the way forward if standing is to officially return to our grounds.
However, it’s not simply a question of accommodating those who want to stand as the majority of fans still prefer to sit and clearly any solution to the standing issue has to safeguard their interests as well. In addition, there is also the question of children in standing areas.
The answer to the latter issue may simply be designating the front rows for people with children but the former issue is more complex as anyone who wants to continue to sit in an area that becomes reserved for standing would have to be moved, which is inevitably going to cause a number of issues.
At the Canaries Trust we have members on both sides of the debate and clearly, we want to see a solution that works for all, with the Club also acutely aware of the need to find a balance.
While the government continue to informally gather information and the Hillsborough prosecutions are still working their way through the legal system there will be no official progress on this issue, but that doesn’t mean that nothing’s happening.
It’s also a fallacy to believe that the Hillsborough families or Liverpool fans generally are opposed to safe standing. In fact, a recent survey by Spirit of Shankly, the Trust’s counterpart at Anfield, showed overwhelming support for it, and Tracey Crouch herself noted that on match days the whole Kop stays on its feet.
My own view is that the eventual solution may be a relaxation of the law to allow clubs and their local Safety Advisory Groups (made up of representatives of clubs, local authorities and emergency services) to make decisions about standing in their own stadiums but whether or not that proves to be the case there is no doubt that the demand for a proper solution to what is currently a rather messy fudge will continue to grow.