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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 07:59 GMT
Football split over terrace return
Sports Minister Kate Hoey is to consider the introduction of "safely designed standing areas" in Premiership football grounds - even though it is contrary to government policy.
Standing terraces were phased out after the Taylor report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed because of over-crowding at the Sheffield ground.
Hoey's views - expressed on BBC1's Weekend Watchdog programme, which will be broadcast on Friday 22 December - have been influenced by a new stadium in Germany.
But Culture Secretary Chris Smith has poured cold water on the suggestion following the implementation of the Taylor Report after the Hillsborough disaster.
Hamburg's Volksparkstadion has a sophisticated new system that allows certain sections to be interchanged between seating and standing.
Hoey would like to see a pilot scheme introduced at Premier League grounds.
She said: "What we're not prepared to have a re-think on is going back to huge terraces, very badly controlled and in very bad condition.
"What this is about really is whether it is possible - if the clubs and certain supporters want it - to have pilots perhaps of safe designed standing areas, very small and very well controlled.
"I've got quite an open mind on how we would move forward on this.
"What I want to do is get everyone to look at it - talk to the clubs, talk to supporters and see if the new technology and the new changes might mean that at some stage in the future it might be possible."
But Hoey's views are at odds with Government policy.
Culture Minister Chris Smith has distanced himself from the possibility of trying out a return to standing areas.
"The Government understands the desire of some football supporters to stand at matches and considered the case for a return to terraces in 1997," he said.
"That review concluded that all-seater stadia are demonstrably safer than standing terraces, however those terraces are configured.
"As a direct result of Lord Justice Taylor's comprehensive report into the causes of the [Hillsborough] disaster, we now have the safest football grounds in the world.
"The Government's view remains what it has consistently been.
"Public safety is paramount and the Taylor Report had the last word on this issue.
"At all costs, we must ensure that Hillsborough cannot happen again."
Smith's views were reiterated by Premier League spokesman Phillip French.
He said: "The Government and the FA Premier League's position is quite clear.
"It is inconceivable that there will ever be a return to terracing in top-flight football."
Another group opposed to the move are the Hillsborough Families Support Group, who believe the scheme would be a step backwards.
Group secretary Phil Hammond said: "They should leave the grounds the way they are and I would not want anyone to see what I saw on 15 April, 1989.
"It's not worth risking people's lives over."
But Hoey's proposals received the backing of football fans who believe terraces would introduce more atmosphere and more affordable tickets.
Phil Gatenby, of the pro-standing group Safe Areas for Eastlands, said: "We do not wish to see the return to old style, traditional open terraces, but purpose-built safe standing areas for those fans who wish to stand up at a football match.
"Currently, fans are standing up in seated areas, a practice that is causing conflict between fans who want to stand up and participate in generating an atmosphere and those who wish to remain seated."
"It is also a practice that is clearly not safe."
The full interview with Kate Hoey will be broadcast at 19.00 GMT on Weekend Watchdog, BBC 1, Friday 22 December.
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