The Football League andd the Football Supporters Federation have launched a joint campaign, aimed at changing the laws concerning terracing at football stadiums. In the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, and the subsequent Taylor Report, Government policy has been to enforce all-seater stadiums for all Premier League and Championship clubs, through their stadium safety certificates.
Clubs that enter the Championship division are only allowed to maintain terracing for a limited number of seasons, upon which they must convert their terrace areas to seated accommodation or close them. Meanwhile clubs that drop down from the Championship are not allowed to reopen their terracing structures, or convert their seated structures, even though existing League One and League Two sides are able to continue to use terracing.
In the immediate years following the Hillsborough disaster, the Government rhetoric was to blame rowdy supporters and terracing structures for the events that led to 96 Liverpool fans losing their lives. As more facts have come out, including the lack of a Safety Certificate at that time at Hillsborough, the state of the terracing crush barriers and failings in crowd control by the police, attention has turned more to generic stadium safety, rather than terracing itself. As a result, the recommendations of the Taylor Report, and Government policy at that time have been brought into question.
Recent months have seen a sea of change. Premier League side West Bromwich Albion applied to the Government to have rail seats installed in the Smethwick End of their ground - a flexible form of seating that can be converted to terrace steps with rails by use of a lockable design. Meanwhile a petition to the Government has been signed by over 100,000 supporters, thus ensuring that it will be put forward for formal debate by Parliament. That petition was officially backed by a number of clubs, including Brentford, Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Crystal Palace, Derby County, Northampton Town, Norwich City, Peterborough United, Portsmouth and Wimbledon, some of which have also put themselves forward to act as trialists for rail seats - more commonly dubbed as 'safe standing' options.
West Brom's attempt to change the system was rejected by Government Sports minister Tracey Crouch who claimed that such changes were only wanted by a "vocal minority". The Football Supporters Federation criticised the Government's stance, with West Brom also stating their belief that all-seater stadiums were less safe due to the seats themselves causing injury where more mobile supporters attempted to move over or around them, particularly when a goal was scored. The Baggies Director of Operations warned that Government policy created the opposite of what it was intended to do:
"I think the minister has taken a short-sighted view and is preventing the club from creating a safer environment for supporters. The all-seater policy was developed over 25 years ago and football is a very different place now. I have become convinced that rail seating would enhance safety. The club is extremely disappointed with this decision and we have written back requesting a review."
Now the Football League themselves have joined in, launching their own Stand Up For Choice campaign, as a joint venture with the FSF. Their aim is to seek change in current Government legislation. EFL Chief Executive Shaun Harvey believes the solution is to give fans choice, so that fans can attend games with both seated and standing options available:
"We understand why the issue of standing at football matches is sensitive. The safety of all fans is of paramount importance to everyone, including Government, and they are rightly concerned about any change that could increase the safety risk and then see them accountable for this. We recognise that to affect change we will need a partnership approach and this will commence with our survey to demonstrate that those who attend fixtures, want to see the change and be offered a choice, even if they still choose to be seated. Our clubs and their fans should be part of the solution."
Harvey points out that whilst terracing is available in League One and League Two, that makes a nonsense of the current legislation, given that the safety of a football stadium cannot be defined by the quality of the football on the pitch. He points out that 21 clubs in the EFL, including Yeovil Town, still have the right to stage games with terracing, often playing in the same division as other clubs that are not allowed to do the same:
"The EFL would like to see current legislation reviewed by the Government and ultimately amended so that clubs have the opportunity to provide standing accommodation to their supporters at all matches played in the Championship, League One and League Two, should they wish to. There are 21 EFL clubs across our three divisions that currently offer licensed standing areas to supporters and it is unclear to us how such areas would be any less safe if operated on an identical basis at other clubs playing in the same competitions. Nor is the logic clear to us why clubs can offer standing in League One and League Two but not to the same fans, in the same stands, at the same grounds after three years of playing in the Championship or above. If standing areas are licensed as being safe, they donít become any less safe just because the standard of football being played on the pitch is different."
The issue is an important one for Yeovil Town, if they were to return to Championship football at any time. Having spent the 2013-14 season in second tier football, they are permitted two more seasons at that level before they would be forced to redevelop the existing home terrace and Copse Road Away Terrace into seated accommodation, or be forced to close those parts of the ground until that work was done.
The Football League have launched a survey that will be open until May 10th, with the results presented to Government, in support of any debate the League or Parliament may have in terms of changing the legislation. You're able to visit the Survey by heading here. (At the time of writing, this website was experiencing problems, so you may need to wait a while as it's almost certainly a performance related issue).
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