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The Safe Standing Roadshow comes to Leeds
Tuesday, 15th May 2018 13:57 by Tim Whelan

A growing number of fans are calling on the Government to relax the current ban on standing areas in England’s top two divisions, and tonight the campaign is coming to Elland Road.

Terracing has been a thing of the past at the higher levels of English Football since 1994. The Taylor Report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster recommended that stadia should become all-seater and this was enthusiastically enforced by the government of the day through the Football Spectators Act of the same year, though clubs were given a few years to re-develop their grounds to the new standard.

But technology has moved on in the years since then, and new Safe Standing systems have been developed. One such is the ‘Rail Seating’ system that is widely used in Germany, where standing is allowed in domestic football, and includes folding seats so that the same areas can be used for seating in UEFA competitions when standing isn’t allowed.

The success of Safe Standing in Germany has prompted some clubs to look at the possibility of using these systems over here. But a request from West Brom to introduce a standing section at the Hawthorns was refused by Sports minister Tracey Crouch, who said the government have no plans to change the current legislation.

This has led to a petition that has so far been signed by 111,000 fans, forcing the government to debate the issue in Parliament. This will take place on June 25th. But Crouch is still determined to resist, and has claimed that all-seaters led to the decline in crowd trouble since the 1980s. But this isn’t borne out by any evidence, and in fact hooliganism was already in decline by the time they came in, with a big fall in numbers of arrests from 1985 to 1989.

Crouch has also attempted to play down the support for the reintroduction of terracing. “While I appreciate there is a vocal minority who want a return to standing, I don’t think they speak for the majority.” Again this comment is not borne out by evidence, as survey after survey has shown that a majority of fans want supporters to be given the choice.

When the Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST) asked its members last year, 97 per cent wanted a return to standing, and the last national poll by the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) found over 90 per cent in favour. Even fans who prefer to sit want fans to be given the choice, as it would mean that fans wanting to stand would no longer do so in seated areas in front of those remaining seated.

And there would be other advantages to standing, not least an improvement in the matchday atmosphere. There would also be an increase in capacity, as rail seating can accommodate 1.8 times the number of fans in the same area, so more would be able to get tickets for big games likely to sell out. And there could be a modest drop in ticket prices, making the game more affordable to those on low incomes.

The Football League have come round to the idea of allowing clubs in the Championship to use terracing if and when the law changes. Their current position is that it wants “a review of existing legislation so that clubs have a choice on this matter and fans get the matchday experience they want.” And in March 2017 chief executive Shaun Harvey said "Our objective remains to secure the opportunity for any of our clubs to have standing accommodation at their stadiums and we will continue to lobby on this basis.”

And you could say that by allowing the roadshow to come to Elland Road tonight, Leeds United are also giving tacit support to the campaign. Managing director Angus Kinnear told the Yorkshire Post “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.”

Tonight’s event has been organised by LUST, but will be presented by the FSF’s campaigner Jon Darch. It will be a demonstration of the latest rail seat technology, and before the public event Darch will also be having a private meeting with a group of local MPs, councillors and representatives from Leeds United’s Safety Advisory Board.

Darch told the Yorkshire Evening Post “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.”

The Safe Standing Roadshow takes place tonight at the Elland Road Pavilion. Doors open from 7pm. Further information on the Football Supporters Federation’s Safe Standing campaign is available here.

Photo: Action Images

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