Hillsborough closure? Football supporters stand up for change

Ministers are refusing to listen to calls for the reintroduction of standing areas at football matches, as pressure for a change grows in parliament.

Over 50 MPs have now signed a Commons motion calling for a small-scale pilot to take place at a Premier League or Championship club.

The Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) wants to see a pilot in which a small area of a major ground, encompassing 10-15% of a capacity crowd, would be ticketed in standing areas.

These areas would see metal barriers separate supporters, meaning only two rows of football fans would be next to each other. Safety experts have backed the proposals, which are already in use in some Bundesliga clubs.

Executive director David Rose told politics.co.uk: "Fans don't turn into raging hooligans the moment they stand up."

"Up until now, ever since the terrible tragedy of Hillsborough we've had a situation where standing at Premier League matches is not permitted," Labour MP Roger Godsiff said at an event in parliament yesterday.

He urged football fans to be "mindful and respectful of what happened" but added: "The report has completely opened up the issue once again."

For years Liverpool supporters were frustrated and angered as the authorities blamed hooliganism and terraces at football grounds blamed for the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died on April 15th 1989.

Earlier this year shocking revelations from the Hillsborough independent panel confirmed supporters' suspicions that incompetence, corruption and evasiveness on the part of police officers and safety arrangements at the ground were actually responsible.

It emerged 164 statements from police officers were "significantly amended", while 116 explicitly removed negative comments about the policing operation.

Now blame has been removed from terracing, football fans have launching a 'safe standing' campaign in the hope the government will change existing arrangements.

"I think that for many supporters, not all, but for many, the opportunity to be able to be on their feet throughout the match is an opportunity to generate a bit more atmosphere," said Liberal Democrat MP Simon Wright, who is a season ticket holder at Norwich City FC.

"There is a feeling that being required to be seated throughout is in a sense holds supporters back from demonstrating their passion within the stadium."

The FSF says nine out of ten football supporters back the switch, but the Hillsborough Support Group, which represents survivors and the friends and relatives of victims, remains opposed.

Sports minister Hugh Robertson, responding to a written question from Lib Dem backbencher Simon Wright, made clear the government was not prepared to change its mind on the issue.

"The government believes that the long standing policy, which requires that stadia of football clubs in the top two divisions be all-seater, remains the best means to ensure the safety and security of spectators at football grounds in England and Wales," he told parliament.

"The football authorities, police and those responsible for safety all continue to support the current policy and a compelling case has not been made to change this."

Fifty-three MPs have signed Godsiff's early day motion calling for a change of approach, of which six are Conservatives.

The motion notes that the Scottish Premier League is planning to initiate trials and calls on the government to recognise "improvements in stadium design and technology mean that, with rigorous safety specifications, standing areas can be safely introduced".

"It's very clearly the case that in the past the regulation has been far from adequate," Wright added.

"We have seen a deeply distressing incidents and tragedy on the scale of Hillsborough disaster a result of that.

"This pressure from the FSF is not in any way suggesting a return to the bad old days of the past where safety was a secondary consideration."

Aston Villa's chief executive Paul Faulkner said his club's supporters were keen to see a change and indicated he would be happy for a trial to take place at Villa Park.

Rose said those who prefer to sit would benefit, as increasingly spectators find themselves in an area where standing is unofficially permitted.

"It isn't a return to the old terracing style – it's very much just two per row, which stops any surge, any momentum, but allows fans to enjoy an atmosphere where they can stand up and sing," he added.

"What we want to do is just let the clubs make that choice and react to the demand from their own fans."