Spirit of Shankly, a supporters union for fans of English Premier League football club Liverpool, will this week poll its members for their views on the introduction of safe standing at grounds in England.
The issue of safe standing is an emotive subject for Liverpool fans following the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 supporters.
On Saturday, a Spirit of Shankly-organised meeting took place to discuss the topic and fans will this week vote on whether or not they feel safe standing should be introduced. The vote will not force the club itself into making a decision on the matter, but will provide a clearer picture on supporters’ views.
Last month, six people, including match commander David Duckenfield and former chief constable Sir Norman Bettison, were charged with offences relating to the Hillsborough Disaster.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of overcrowding in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced last month that Duckenfield had been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence and Bettison was accused of four counts of misconduct in public office.
Operation Resolve, which investigated the causes of the disaster, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, had passed files of evidence relating to 23 suspects, including individuals and organisations, to the CPS earlier this year.
Last year, new inquests found the 96 were unlawfully killed in the disaster. The jury also identified mistakes in the police planning and response, the actions of officers, safety standards and management at the ground and the response by the ambulance service. It also found there were dangerous features in the stadium design.
The original inquest in 1991 ruled that the deaths were accidental, but those verdicts were quashed following an independent report that concluded a major cover-up had taken place to shift the blame for the disaster onto the victims.
The 1990 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster Inquiry report, known as the Taylor Report, led to a ban on standing at stadia in the top two tiers of English football. The report found that the Hillsborough Disaster was not caused by standing, but was primarily due to overcrowding, stadium layout, and poor policing.
In recent years, there have been calls for safe standing to be introduced at grounds and a number of stadiums in Europe feature rail seating. Rail seating has been implemented at, among others, Celtic Park, home of Scottish Premiership side Celtic. The Taylor Report does not apply to Scottish teams.
The result of the Spirit of Shankly vote will be announced on July 31. The union’s chair, Jay McKenna, told The Guardian: “We felt if we didn’t have the conversation it would happen around us. That could be upsetting and damaging for some.”
The Guardian’s report noted that representatives from Celtic, the Football Supporters’ Federation and the Sports Ground Safety Authority also spoke at Saturday’s meeting at Liverpool’s Liner Hotel.
The FSF’s Amanda Jacks said: “One of the primary reasons we were always given when we started the debate was ‘We can’t have another Hillsborough’. We were also told it would deter women and children from attending matches. It was all evidence-free, they were all assumptions. Now we have evidence that standing can be managed safely. How can it be safe for people to stand at Wembley for a concert, or at rugby, but not for football fans? Most importantly it is about choice. From our surveys 85 per cent would like to have the choice of sitting or standing to watch their teams.”
The Hillsborough Family Support Group has long opposed the introduction of safe standing and reiterated its stance at the meeting. The Guardian also said another group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, welcomed an “open, fair and frank discussion on the subject with safety at the heart of any decisions.”
Sue Roberts, who lost a relative at Hillsborough, said: “My brother, Graham, was one of the 96 unlawfully killed in the crushing in the pens at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989. The cause of death was given as compression asphyxia. We all know there were many factors that contributed to the deaths of our loved ones, but had Graham been seated instead of standing this could not have happened. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think any form of standing is a step in the wrong direction.”
Becky Shah, whose mother, Ingah Shah, was killed at Hillsborough, expressed her support for the introduction of safe standing. She said: “I would like to see it reintroduced because I would like to reclaim the game for all of those people who went to the game in the 50s, the 60s, the 80s and have been priced out of the game they love, including myself. The irony is I’ve been priced out of the game I love as a consequence of my mother’s death. I would like to see the working-class game returned into the hands of the working classes and safe standing is a mechanism to do it. We are already standing on the Kop and at away games. It’s now time to make it safe.”
Image: Jon Darch