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Page last updated at 22:34 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 23:34 UK

Lib Dems to debate safe standing

By Matt Slater

Borussia Dortmund
Stands like this one at Borussia Dortmund are common in Germany

The Liberal Democrats are set to back a fan-led campaign to return standing areas to all British football stadia.

A motion on the controversial subject will be debated at the Lib Dems' autumn conference in Bournemouth on Sunday.

Stadia in England's top two tiers have had to be all-seater since the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster.

"If fans want to stand, and clubs want to let them, we should at least explore safe ways of achieving it," said Lib Dem sports spokesman Don Foster.

"This is a sensitive issue but we cannot ignore the large numbers of fans who want to stand and are doing so in seating areas, despite the existing regulations and the danger it causes.

"Given the seeming impossibility of policing existing regulations, and recognising that some passionate fans want to be able to jump up and down, then we need to look at technologies that allow them to do that safely.

We congratulate the Liberal Democrats' decision to debate safe standing and would encourage all political parties to follow suit

Malcolm Clarke
Football Supporters' Federation
"Football has taken enormous steps in recent years with more diverse crowds, improved stadium designs and better policing. These proposals would in no way seek to undermine that progress."

The Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) and Stand Up Sit Down have led the campaign to re-open the case for standing sections.

They point to German stadia as an example of how this can be done without jeopardising safety and they have drawn attention to the fact fans are allowed to stand at football matches outside the top two divisions, rugby matches and even music events at football stadia.

Concerns over ticket prices, an ageing crowd demographic, falling attendances at some grounds and a perceived lack of atmosphere at many venues have also contributed to the growing calls for a return to standing.

But the campaigners' efforts have been ignored so far by the government and the football authorities, particularly the Football Licensing Authority, the body created to implement the Taylor Report's post-Hillsborough recommendations.

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 between Liverpool and 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.

Arsenal's North Bank in the early 1970s
The traditional British football terrace was a popular but basic structure
British football, embarrassed by years of hooliganism and tired of second-rate facilities, did not need a second invitation and the era of packed terraces was quickly consigned to the past. The authorities have regarded any attempt to reintroduce standing as a "retrograde step".

But Malcolm Clarke, the chair of the FSF, said: "When nine of 10 fans want the option to stand, it's something that should be provided. Standing still occurs in the lower divisions and the government acknowledges it is not inherently unsafe.

"We congratulate the Liberal Democrats' decision to debate safe standing and would encourage all political parties to follow suit.

"Safe standing isn't just about those who wish to stand, it's about those who want to sit and view the match in comfort too. Many have their enjoyment spoiled by those who wish to stand."

Foster, the shadow secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, is expected to vote in favour of the motion as is Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, who has proposed two Early Day Motions in Parliament on the subject of safe standing in recent years.

Conservative leader David Cameron has previously said his party would review the current situation if elected.

The Lib Dem debate is particularly timely as this weekend will also see football fans from 14 different countries unite in the "Eurostand 2008" campaign to demand the right to stand.

see also
Clegg upbeat ahead of conference
12 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
Terrace backers look to Germany
17 Mar 07 |  Football
Calls grow for return of terraces
14 Mar 07 |  Football
Cameron terraces pledge to fans
31 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Football fans take a stand
11 Jan 02 |  Politics
Football split over terrace return
22 Dec 00 |  Football

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