Football: Safe Standing

Emma Hardy Excerpts
Monday 25th June 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Mr Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab) Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 4 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on initiating the debate. In the late 1990s, I initiated a similar debate and introduced a private Member’s Bill, which the Government of the day, in their wisdom, talked out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has better luck with his current campaign.

Every week, hundreds of thousands of people attend football matches in leagues 1 and 2, and non-league games. They attend rugby matches, rugby league matches and horse racing, and they can stand up at all those events. Indeed, if one wishes to include fishing as a sport, one could say that for fishing—the most popular participatory sport in the country—one can choose to stand or sit. However, at championship and premiership matches, one cannot choose to stand. Furthermore, literally hundreds of thousands of people attend pop concerts such as Glastonbury, many of which are held in football grounds where the fans cannot stand up to watch a game. Yet they can stand up to watch a concert. They can jump up and down, and that is perfectly legal.

The Minister is on record as saying:

“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. The clubs aren’t convinced either. I know there have been surveys done and there is no desire among the top clubs to change this policy.”

That is just not true. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and other speakers pointed out, club after club have asked for the right to have a safe standing area.

Reference was made earlier to the fact that West Bromwich applied to the Minister when they were still in the premiership to be allowed to have a safe area for 3,800 people. She turned it down. The great club of Aston Villa, on the edge of my constituency, wrote to me saying, “Here at Aston Villa, we believe that existing legislation should be changed to afford all EFL clubs the opportunity to offer their supporters the choice to sit or stand at matches in safe, licensed stadiums.” One after another, clubs in the championship and premiership have said that they would like to have that option.

Ever since I initiated, many years ago, the debate that I referred to, I have never had a satisfactory answer from any Minister to this question. How can it be safe for hundreds of thousands of pop fans to jump up and down at pop concerts, but not safe for a few thousand football fans to stand up behind rail seats? It happens in the Bundesliga and other European leagues, and it is perfectly safe. Nobody has ever given me a convincing argument about why it is safe for hundreds of thousands of people to jump up and down and not safe for a few thousand people to stand up.

The Scottish Parliament rightly recognises that ridiculous contradiction and has allowed clubs in the Scottish Premiership to trial safe standing. Celtic, which 50,000 supporters watch every week, has introduced safe standing in a small segment of the ground, and it has proved very popular. It is about time that we in England caught up with Scotland. It is about time that football fans in England were allowed to stand up.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab) - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 6:11 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) for her work on raising this issue.

When I was a child, it was evident to everybody who came to my house that I had an incredibly obsessive football-supporting father. They spotted it from the moment they stepped into the lounge and saw the football shrine made up of memorabilia collected over years, which outgrew the area it was originally assigned to. The evidence of my father’s support for his team even pushed away the family photographs. If people failed to miss that, they would notice the football programmes in frames throughout the house and up the stairs, which my dad would happily point out to anyone who showed a bit of interest in them. I witnessed the weekly rituals he went through. Every time his team played a match, we had to make mum sit upstairs in the bedroom, because if she set foot in the lounge, the opposition would score against the team we were all cheering along. I learned from a very young age how important football is. I believe that the vast majority of football fans are entirely decent, law-abiding people—although some, like my dad, are utterly obsessed.

I am very proud to have Hull City in my constituency. In 2012, it announced that it supports safe standing in principle. In June, representatives of the club came to Parliament to lobby MPs about this issue, although I was sadly unable to attend that event. Geoff Bielby, the chairman of the Hull City Supporters’ Trust, and Barbara Wilkinson, the secretary of Senior Tigers—a supporters’ group for over-55s—expressed a preference for safe standing. They suggesting designating a small area of the KCOM stadium for safe standing—they suggested it could accommodate 7,500 people.

A survey has shown that 47% of fans would be more likely to attend a football match if there was safe standing. I cannot speak for everyone else’s team, but Hull City certainly want to encourage as many people as possible to come down and cheer it on. If this is one way to do it, I say, “Let’s go for it.” If more fans come to matches, that will hopefully bring in a lot of extra income.

As many hon. Members have said, people stand anyway. A Hull City supporter who is unable to stand as he finds it difficult told me that he wants safe standing. I asked him why, and he said that he wants to be in a seated area where the stewards can enforce sitting and can make sure people in that area sit down. He said that, at the moment, people stand all over the place, but giving people the choice and saying, “If you want to stand, go here. If you want to sit, respect the fact that everybody in this area wants to sit,” would be a practical solution to the problem.

It is time that we allow local clubs to make these decisions, based on local information. I am not saying that we should create a rule that affects every club in every city, but for clubs such as Hull City, surely it should be up to the local authority, the police and the football club to work together and think about what really works for our football fans and our city. I do not believe that one size fits all. Allowing a local decision-making body to decide on the amount of safe standing means that it can adapt quickly to changing circumstances. We would not need to have a big debate if, a bit further down the line, we want to reduce or increase the amount of safe standing. That would be the best solution and the best decision for obsessive fans such as my dad and clubs such as Hull City.