Question of the Week
Do you support Cleethorpes Town?
|We Want To Stand!|
Standing and Atmosphere - Campaign
By: Peter Caton & Amanda Matthews
Ask a football supporter why they dedicate no small part of their lives and income to following their team and you'll get obvious answers.
However one response seldom given these days refers to the camaraderie with fellow supporters, the singing and chanting, the banter and standing shoulder to shoulder with mates and family on the terraces.
Supporting your team in such a way now belongs in the past and yet is much missed and lamented by huge numbers of match going fans, and perhaps more importantly, those that are now staying away. Memories of standing on the terraces are now fast fading with a new generation of supporters rarely contributing to an atmosphere that for many older supporters played a major part in their Saturday afternoons, and yet they yearn to do so.
Younger supporters these days are more likely than not to sit in the stands and watch their team in near silence and will never be passed over the heads of their fellow supporters to sit at the front of a heaving, noisy crowd let alone be part of it! Of course nobody reading this would want a return to the days of terracing, when conditions were sometimes appalling, and scant regard was had for the safety of supporters but what the majority of members of Stand Up Sit Down www.standupsitdown.co.uk tell us is that they feel all seater stadiums and being made to sit contribute hugely to the lack of atmosphere and that that is increasingly effecting their decision to stay away from games.
Supporters at Man City have set up an organisation called The Atmosphere Action Group and their counterparts at Newcastle, Bring Back the Noise, so important is atmosphere to them. The efforts of Man City supporters are perhaps paying off; at a recent home game a recording of the crowd in full voice was heard over the tannoy systemâ€¦.
Of course the increasing ticket prices and kick off times designed to suit a television audience play their part in decreasing attendances but surely the time is ripe for both clubs and footballing authorities to consider a return to standing and consequently getting some real atmosphere back in our grounds, not just for 'big' games but for every game.
Stand Up Sit Down would welcome the return of safe terracing perhaps along the German model, but recognise that the majority of clubs would be loathe to put the necessary investment into doing this even if regulations were changed. We are therefore proposing that the authorities consider relaxing the rules and allow supporters to stand in front of their seats in designated areas, preferably a lower tier, something that they've done without incident since seats replaced terraces. It is apparent that Lord Taylor had little understanding of football supporters when he stated that we'd soon get used to having to sit!
Areas such as we are proposing have existed unofficially for years, the Bobby Moore Lower at the Boleyn Ground and the Kop at Anfield being just two examples. It is no co-incidence that these parts of the ground generate the noisiest and most passionate atmosphere with many supporters deliberately buying season and match day tickets in these areas as, despite initiatives by clubs driven by the local authorities and the FLA, supporters have stood in front of their seats since the regulations were introduced.
It is telling that managers, players and pundits will often cite the crowd as being the 12th man and yet rarely do stadiums come to life with every supporter cheering their team on - the supporters to which they refer will have, more often than not, been congregated in one area, ordinarily behind the goal, and will have stood throughout the game despite stewards trying to force them to sit.
The magnificent support Portsmouth gave their team while standing one wet, miserable night when they were on the receiving end of a 5 nil thrashing from Arsenal will never be forgotten by anybody who witnessed it; many in the media were moved to comment - as did Wenger and his players - and yet such support used to be so common place nobody batted an eyelid! More recently Liverpool supporters stood and sang their hearts out when their team were losing 3 nil in the Champs ions League final, and we all know how that game ended!
Supporters of clubs in the Premiership and Championship who contribute to such an atmosphere are now in danger of being lost to their clubs as stewards increasingly remove them from the ground for standing. As clubs must demonstrate that they take the rules and regulations seriously, most are moved to then ban these same supporters. However, despite the fact that their fears of cascade effects and supporters simply losing their balance while standing and 'straining' to follow play have not yet been realised, the FLA are placing ever increasing pressure on clubs and local authorities to ensure supporters remain seated for the duration of the game, apart from "moments of high excitement". Incidentally, safety officers' ideas of a moment of "high excitement" can vary dramatically from club to club with some stewards cracking down on supporters standing, for example, during a corner.
This pressure has resulted in threats to close parts of grounds, some clubs have had away ticket allocations reduced (but these reductions, if implemented at all, vary dependent on the local authority responsible for the stadium) and have seen supporters banned for varying periods of time. Tottenham Hotspur recently banned supporters for just 3 games as a punishment for persistent standing; they've got off lightly, many more supporters have had season tickets confiscated and have been told they are no longer welcome at their club.
Since the inception of Stand Up Sit Down we've spoken to a number of people from within the game, including club chairman, safety officers and individual police officers and a suprising number of them back our objectives and yet very few of them will allow us to quote them on the record as they fear drawing the unwelcome attentions of the FLA and safety authorities. Last season an MD of a Championship club raised the issue of safe standing at a supporter forum and the overwhelming number of people attending voted in favour of a return to standing; the MD then public ally voiced support for our initiative and urged his supporters to do likewise. We heard shortly afterwards that this MD was told by his local safety advisory group that his opinions on the issue should not be publicly aired!
While SUSD met with the FLA earlier this year, they politely listened to our arguments and issues in favour of being allowed to stand, they were dismissed out of hand by Richard Caborn the Sports Minister on the advice of John De Quidt of the FLA.
It appears that the opinion of crowd psychology experts plays little part in the enforcing of the all seater rule and yet when Dr Clifford Stott of Liverpool University addressed the Police Match Commanders conference in the summer he told them that a significant factor in the psychology of crowd unrest and the potential for disorder is the crowds perception of how they are treated and he specifically cited the heavy handedness with which the standing issue is dealt with as an example. Stephen Reicher, Social Psychologist was recently quoted in the Financial Times as saying that football supporters respond far better to a relaxed approach from the police than a hostile and wary one.
David Conn wrote in his book, the Beautiful Game?, that he felt that standing would never return to English football at the higher levels as the Government equate standing with hooliganism rather than them believing that terracing is inherently unsafe. Having considered in some depth the various safety arguments put to us by the FLA we cannot help but have sympathy with his views; indeed a lot of SUSD's members agree whole heartedly with that theory.
The FLA simply disregarded our arguments in favour of being able to stand in front of our seats by saying "because a cascade effect (or similar) has never happened, that does not mean to say it won't and we have to use all our powers to stop it happening" and Richard Caborn stated that supporter safety is more important than giving us the choice as to whether we sit or stand and yet a differing stance is taken by the Department of Transport who say that it is entirely up to motor cyclists as to whether they were protective clothing and Transport for London who say it is for commuters to choose if they wish to stand on fast moving vehicles!
It would seem that the experiences of supporters who still stand in the lower divisions in this country and those who stand in Europe don't even enter their thought process! Surely if the risk of cascading or supporters simply losing their balance and falling was so great, then every supporter in the country would be legally required to spend 90 minutes with their bums glued to the seats. What next, compulsory seat belts for those in rows X, Y and Z?!
We heard from several SUSD members during the closed season whose clubs hosted rock and pop concerts with most moving to comment that many attendees were seemingly not subjected to any of the rules and regulations that football supporters are. Certainly many told us that they were not only able to dance in their seats but in the aisles as well with stewards turning a blind eye to behaviour that would have seen football supporters ejected from the same grounds.
Behaviour of Oasis fans at the City of Manchester Stadium were particularly brought to our attention and resulted in the FSF writing a report that was submitted to the various safety and footballing authorities a couple of weeks ago. In short even if a small minority of football fans behaved in the same way as the majority of Oasis concert goers - climbing from an upper tier to a lower one for example - then there would surely be calls for games to be played behind closed doors.
We've been previously told by the FLA that concert goers have a different 'profile' to football supporters hence their differing treatment, oh, and a similar reason is given to explain away why some Europeans can stand, they have a different culture to us. Unless you believe that profiles and cultures make you immune from cascade effects and losing your balance, then draw your own conclusionsâ€¦..
Simply, there appears to be a concerted effort for the issue of standing not to reach debate in the public domain and yet can club chairmen continue to pretend this issue (and others) doesn't matter to supporters when they are staying away in their thousands?
If they do consider backing the return of standing by either implementing our proposals or taking away seats that were simply put on terraces, they may be interested in the findings of a survey carried out on our proposals by the Football Fans Census late last year. Just over 1500 fans from all clubs were surveyed aged between 16 and 55 and 88% of them said separate standing areas should be created with a further 24% saying they should be mandatory!
Surely to ignore such strong opinion will eventually be to the games detriment with supporters finding it more fun - not to say cheaper - to watch games in the pub where they are not watched over by neurotic officials who have yet to offer a convincing safety argument in favour of enforcing the all seater rule in such a draconian way?
Now you've read this you may be wondering what, if anything, you can do. Firstly, sign our petition www.standupsitdown.co.uk and become a member, secondly write to your club, your MP and the FLA expressing your wish that supporters should be given the choice as to whether they sit or stand at their club. If you are interesting in arranging a peaceful "Yellow Card the FLA" protest, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can co-ordinate the protest for you and provide advice, we can also put you in touch with like minded supporters.
There are enough of us out there to make a difference - if we really want to; if you leave it to somebody else we'll continue getting the treatment our apathy deserves.
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