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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 12:53 GMT
Calls grow for return of terraces
By Matt Slater

The standing areas at Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen
Safe standing sections at Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen
The vast majority of English football supporters want a return to standing in grounds, according to a survey obtained by BBC Sport.

The poll, which is due to be published later in March, found 92% want clubs to bring back safe standing areas.

Stadia in the top two divisions have had to be all-seater since the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster.

Former Sports Minister Kate Hoey said: "A rational reappraisal of this issue is long overdue. It's time to talk."

Pressure for another look at the issue of terracing has been growing, prompting campaigners to demand a fresh debate.

The poll was conducted by Football Fans Census (FFC), an independent forum set up to gather and communicate opinion on football-related matters.

No new evidence has been presented to suggest there is a more effective way of achieving safety as well as public order than all-seater stadia

Sports Minister Richard Caborn
FFC co-founder Tim Gentles said: "This is the fourth time we have polled fans on this issue and support for standing in safe, designated areas has consistently been over 90%."

The sample for this poll was 2,100 fans from all clubs and divisions, 45% of whom were season-ticket holders.

Gentles added that a recent "state of the game" survey found the right to stand was the second most important issue for fans after ticket prices.

The survey's findings came as no surprise to Hoey, who tried to re-open the case for terraces during her tenure as sports minister in 2000.

But despite Tony Blair and other senior Labour politicians saying they were in favour of the idea when in opposition, they changed their position when in power.

Fans standing at Cardiff's Ninian Park
Standing is still allowed and popular at Championship side Cardiff City
As a result, Hoey was quickly silenced by Culture Secretary Chris Smith and replaced soon after by current incumbent Richard Caborn. She was also criticised by relatives of Liverpool fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough.

Ninety-six supporters died on 15 April 1989 when the Leppings Lane end at Sheffield Wednesday's ground became over-crowded at the start of an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

The official inquiry, conducted by Lord Taylor, blamed poor policing and inadequate facilities for the tragedy but the main recommendation was for the introduction of all-seater stadia and the removal of perimeter fencing.

On Wednesday, however, an undeterred Hoey is co-hosting a seminar on the issue at the House of Commons. And with German stadia in the Bundesliga providing a working example of how modern technology and effective stewarding can provide a problem-free mix of seating and standing, she appears to be on safer ground this time.

606: DEBATE

Organised by project management group Drivers Jonas, the seminar is a result of research the company commissioned to find out how satisfied fans were with the new stadia that it helped to deliver (grounds which include Middlesbrough's and Sunderland's).

The company's football expert Geoff Aucock said: "We asked fans about their experience at the grounds - sight lines, toilets and so on - but the most interesting thing we found was the interest in bringing back standing areas.

"It was an unprompted response as we purposefully did not ask that question. So we thought it was time to re-open the debate. Our part in this is just to make sure the decision-makers have the latest information on the developments in this field."

Hoey said it was "only sensible" to bring people together to discuss the issue and expressed her disappointment that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Football Licensing Authority (FLA), the body the DCMS set up to implement the Taylor Report's recommendations, had declined invitations to attend the seminar.

"They are frightened to put their head above the parapet but it is a pity that they don't feel they can even come to debate the subject," she said.

Nobody wants to downplay what happened at Hillsborough or return to the hooligan problems of the 70s and 80s, but fans are different now and so is the technology

Phill Gatenby
Football Supporters' Federation
"They have their fixed position, which was fixed 10 years ago, so I am not surprised they're not coming."

Indeed, the DCMS and FLA have been consistent in their objection to any review of their all-seater policy. And safe-standing advocates have accused them of being reluctant to engage in debate.

A DCMS spokesperson told BBC Sport that the department considered the return of standing at football grounds to be a "retrograde step" and directed us to the parliamentary record for the minister's most recent comments on the subject.

In reply to a question from Coventry South MP Jim Cunningham on 8 February, Caborn said: "No new evidence has been presented to suggest that there is a single more effective way of achieving safety as well as public order than all-seater stadia.

"The government remains fully committed to the current policy. The football authorities have also made it clear they have no wish to re-introduce any standing areas at grounds in the top two divisions."

Standing is central to German football culture, especially with the young
Standing is key to German football culture, especially with the young
FLA chief executive John de Quidt, however, did agree to be interviewed and gave a forthright defence of the current legislation and denied that the example of standing areas in German stadia was applicable to England.

De Quidt said the example he looked at, Hamburg's state-of-the-art Volksparkstadion, where the terrace steps rotate 180 degrees to be replaced by seats when necessary, was too expensive and required too much land to be replicated in England.

He also defended the FLA's research into injury statistics at grounds. These indicate that injuries are decreasing and suggest that all-seater grounds are safer than grounds with standing sections.

Pro-standing campaigners, however, challenge the validity of these statistics, saying they include injuries suffered anywhere on the club's premises, regardless of their relevance to standing or even if the conditions existed prior to the game.

They also point to the inconsistency of standing being allowed at lower-division football and other sports and, most glaringly, music concerts at all-seater football stadia.

606: DEBATE
MMP

Amanda Matthews of pro-standing group Stand Up Sit Down said: "Those statistics are not worth the paper they are printed on. The authorities trot them out because they know their argument is weak. There is no evidence whatsoever that all-seater grounds are safer than ones with standing."

But de Quidt said: "The government has made its position clear, that is why we will not be attending (Wednesday's seminar).

"It is a forum designed to generate more heat than light. There is a difference between entering into a debate and participating in a circus."

But with concerns over ticket prices, an ageing crowd demographic, falling attendances, inconsistencies in the legislation, a perceived lack of atmosphere at many grounds and the undiminished support for standing from fans, pressure is growing on the authorities to re-examine the all-seater requirement.

No debate on safe standing can ignore the Hillsborough factor
No debate on safe standing can ignore the Hillsborough factor
Wednesday's seminar is timely as an early day motion that calls for "the government to re-examine the case for introducing, small, limited sections of safe standing areas" has received cross-party approval.

And fans' group the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) is set to present the DCMS and FLA with a dossier of new evidence that it hopes will force them to reconsider.

The FSF's Phill Gatenby is one of the authors of that dossier and has recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Germany, where he saw three Bundesliga matches, all with large, reasonably-priced, trouble-free and very passionate standing sections.

"Nobody wants to downplay the seriousness of what happened at Hillsborough or return to the hooligan problems of the 70s and 80s," said Gatenby.

"But football fans are different now and so is the technology. Even Lord Taylor said standing was not the reason for Hillsborough.

"The DCMS and FLA say it's about safety one minute, public order the next and then claim it's too expensive when those arguments fall down.

"The German example is new evidence. Surely it is time for everybody to get around a table and talk about this."



SEE ALSO
Comment: Let's talk about terraces
14 Mar 07 |  Football
Man Utd fans plan ticket protest
23 Feb 07 |  Football
Cameron terraces pledge to fans
31 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Caborn hails Ewood ticket pledge
27 Jan 07 |  Football
Football fans take a stand
11 Jan 02 |  Politics
Football split over terrace return
22 Dec 00 |  Football
Hillsborough 10 years on
16 Apr 99 |  Hillsborough


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