The movement pushing for the introduction of safe standing in English football grounds is gathering pace rapidly. Political reluctance to bow to pressure for it will be tested on June 25 when parliament debates a petition calling for a relaxation of the law which bans standing in England’s top two divisions.
The ban is a legacy of the Hillsborough disaster and was implemented on recommendations made by Lord Justice Taylor’s report on the tragedy, but support for standing areas in domestic stadia has been creeping gradually. The petition which MPs are due to discuss next month gathered steam and yielded 111,000 signatures after sports minister Tracey Crouch refused a request from West Bromwich Albion to introduce a safe standing section at The Hawthorns.
Closer to home, the debate about standing will come at Elland Road tonight. The Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST) is staging the Safe Standing Roadshow in what it hopes will be a first step towards re-introducing standing at Elland Road. The stadium has been all-seater since 1994, when terracing in the North Stand was replaced, but Leeds United’s willingness to host tonight’s event hints at tacit support for the idea.
The view of United’s hierarchy, like those of boardrooms across the Premier League and the Championship, is immaterial while legislation forbids standing sections, but opinion in Leeds appears to be on the side of the Safe Standing campaign. When LUST canvassed its members last year, 97 per cent voted in favour of seeing the return of standing at football grounds. Last month the EFL issued its ‘Stand up for Choice’ questionnaire, aimed at establishing the level of enthusiasm for standing sections amongst fans of EFL clubs. The survey closed on Thursday and the results are yet to be published. Tonight’s Safe Standing Roadshow, organised by campaigner Jon Darch, will give those present the chance to see and test the rail seating used in standing areas.
It has occupied one corner of Celtic Park since 2016 and would be used in major English venues if the government decided to change the law. Crouch, to date, has been resistant to the campaigns around her.
“While I appreciate there is a vocal minority who want a return to standing, I don’t think they speak for the majority and I remain to be convinced of the case,” she said. “The clubs aren’t convinced either.”
If you’re talking about fans, I think there’s a lot of support for it. We’ve been championing this for a while and we had a survey of our members last year. Ninety-seven per cent of the people who responded were in favour of it.LUST spokesman Chris Hunter
Prior to this evening’s public gathering at Elland Road, Darch will pitch his roadshow privately to a group of local MPs, councillors and representatives from United’s Safety Advisory Board. Regardless of public attitudes, convincing the authorities of the merits of safe standing is the biggest obstacle to change.
Chris Hunter, a LUST spokesman, said: “That’s the big one, convincing the government. It would all come down to Tracey Crouch and the government approving safe standing.
“If you’re talking about fans, I think there’s a lot of support for it. We’ve been championing this for a while and we had a survey of our members last year. Ninety-seven per cent of the people who responded were in favour of it. I’m someone who’s been going to football home and away for years and you see a lot of standing at games, especially with Leeds. When you see the actual rail seats compared to what we have now, I don’t see how they can’t be safer. You get the option to sit down as well as stand so it’s giving you the choice. It’s worked at Celtic so there’s no reason why it couldn’t work down here.”
Persistent standing in seated areas at English stadia is not illegal but it can be seen as a breach of ground regulations and has led to friction over they years between clubs, their supporters and local authorities. The EFL said it had held a “clear mandate from clubs to pursue change since 2014” and that it wanted “a review of existing legislation so that clubs have a choice on this matter and fans get the matchday experience they want.”
United managing director Angus Kinnear said: “We want our supporters to view games in the most enjoyable way possible as long as safety is ensured. We applaud the Leeds United Supporters Trust and their efforts.”
The Safe Standing Roadshow takes place tonight at the Elland Road Pavilion. Doors open from 7pm.