The UK government has commissioned an official review into safe standing at football stadia as English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur revealed its plans to incorporate such facilities into its new home.
Tottenham made the announcement yesterday (Monday) shortly before cross-party MPs debated the issue in parliament on whether all clubs should have the ability to offer fans the choice in terms of whether to sit or stand while they watch their team play.
Safe standing has been outlawed in the top two leagues since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which claimed the lives of 96 football fans. The government in May said there were no plans to change the all-seater policy after West Bromwich Albion saw its safe-standing proposal rejected.
However, this resulted in a petition signed by 112,000 fans calling for Premier League and Championship clubs to introduce safe standing, a campaign that led to Monday’s debate. Following the debate, and the announcement of the review, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said she remained open to the prospect of safe standing, while detailing the intimidation she had received following May’s announcement.
“Contrary to reports on social media, my mind is open on future of the all-seater policy,” Crouch said, according to the BBC. “I felt so disappointed with my own loose language on safe standing, that rightly led to outrage, but then sadly turned into abuse and threats. I feel really scarred by the response received on social media.”
The review will be completed by the end of 2018. It will assess existing evidence and look to identify any missing data, working in association with football bodies, leagues and supporters’ groups.
“At the moment, we don’t have data or evidence to make a decision either way on this issue,” Crouch said. “Change cannot and should not happen overnight on something as serious as football ground safety.”
Adding that West Brom’s proposal of a pilot scheme would have required a law change, Crouch said: “The legislative framework as it is currently set out means I cannot allow for any pilots. There is no wiggle room – it is either the status quo or change the legislation.”
Meanwhile, Tottenham has revealed the design of seating areas that have been future-proofed for safe standing within its new 62,000 capacity stadium, set to open later this year.
Areas at the front of the stadium’s new 17,500 capacity single-tier South Stand, as well as in the visiting supporters’ section, have been designed for safe standing. The North London club said these were areas where it had issues with persistent standing when at its former White Hart Lane home.
The club is proposing a purpose-designed ‘safe seating’ concept whereby it claims safety and spectator comfort are given equal precedence, using the same moulded seats as in the rest of the general admission areas. The seat in its folded position is slim, allowing the stepping clearway to be maximised, with a purpose-designed lock to ensure the seat can be stowed when required.
Donna-Maria Cullen, executive director of Tottenham Hotspur, said: “As a club, we did not engage on this until the Hillsborough Inquiry was concluded, which showed that the tragedy in April 1989 had not been caused by standing.
“We then conducted research with our fan base which showed overwhelming support for safe standing. The main reasons given were choice and atmosphere – fans cannot sing sitting down.
“So, at our new stadium, we have designed a section within the home area and within the away section that has an integrated safety bar with the normal seating. Fans have bought season tickets for the home area in the knowledge that, should the law change, this would be our standing area – it was one of the first areas to sell out.
“Importantly, it is a new design which incorporates the same appearance and comfort as all other seats within the stadium. In the meantime, without any change in the law, our design delivers a safer environment should there be persistent standing.”
Image: Jon Darch