Football: Safe Standing

Mr Simon Clarke Excerpts
Monday 25th June 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab) - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 4:57 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I apologise that I may not be able to stay for the end of the debate and the winding-up speeches, because I will need to be in the Chamber.

I am a huge admirer of Brentford football club in my constituency, just around the corner from where I live, although I cannot call myself a football fan and I do not go regularly to football. On the occasions I have been, I have stood on the terraces there and have enjoyed the experience very much, but I recognise that, after the tragedy of Hillsborough, those terraces are no longer appropriate for the 21st century.

When the 2018-19 season kicks off in August, Brentford football club will be the only club in the championship with standing terraces. In June 2018 the club received special dispensation to continue standing terraces for another season, given that they have started construction work on their new 17,250-seater stadium near Kew Bridge in my constituency. The chief executive of Brentford football club, Mark Devlin, recently said:

“It is clear to us from our discussions with supporters that Brentford fans want the option to stand to watch their football. New stadiums, and even older grounds like Griffin Park, are now very safe places to attend matches. Safety is paramount whenever we hold a game, procedures are rigorous and all our staff are highly trained.”

Brentford will support the Stand up for Choice campaign and would like to be given the chance to gather evidence to inform the debate when they move to the new stadium. They want the change of legislation. They have seen the rail seats. I have seen the rail seats, and I now understand the difference between rail seats and the old-fashioned terraces. There are other clubs around Europe that already have standing areas that we can learn from. Brentford fans are used to standing, so the education process for fans would be minimal. Brentford have designed a brand-new, purpose-built stadium, ready to accommodate dual-purpose seating. They are willing to put in the very latest rail seats to become an effective pilot for standing.

Brentford need a quick decision on this, because of the cost of the rail seats and the project planning for the new stadium. The west stand provides a number of different options and they want to get on with it. They are working closely with the Football Supporters Federation and other groups to understand best practice on safe standing from all clubs and how to work together to deliver it.

The operations team at Brentford is well used to managing standing audiences and already working on detailed operations policies and procedures, including for managed, zoned areas to restrict the amount of movement within a stand or specific rail seat allocation to ensure that all concourses and exits are managed safely at all times. On behalf of the Brentford fans, I would like the Government to support safe standing.

Mr Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con) - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 5 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) for putting the case for safe standing so clearly. This is a day for huge congratulations to all the fans who have made that case and lobbied with such passion, thoughtfulness and commitment for many years to move the debate to the point that we have reached today.

The first Middlesbrough match I ever went to was a thrilling 0-0 draw with Wimbledon on 26 October 1996. I was hooked. That was the year after the Riverside stadium opened. It was one of the first truly modern stadiums to open in the aftermath of the Taylor review and was financed by Steve Gibson, the man who more than any other has come to embody the saving of Middlesbrough football club. Why did the Taylor review happen? We all know the tragic Hillsborough story and the very good reasons why standing was abolished.

However, I returned to the Riverside a few weeks ago to meet a delegation including Middleborough’s chief operating officer, Mark Ellis, Chris Joseph from the Middlesbrough Supporters Forum, Rob Nichols from the Fly Me To The Moon fanzine and Dave Roberts, the commentator. We enjoyed a really good discussion on the pros and cons of safe standing, which are actually quite complex. Whether the club would even choose to go ahead with it, were it an option, is not a done deal, given that, in essence, the cost of a ticket would not be reduced. Only one rail seat can be installed in place of an ordinary seat, so there would probably be no change in the cost of a ticket for a fan.

None the less, this comes down to other things, including safety—it is not safe to stand in an all-seater stadium; the trip hazard of a low plastic seat in front of a fan is very real—atmosphere and the fan experience. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), it is simply not sensible to expect people in a highly passionate environment to sit down politely throughout the experience.

Laura Smith (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab) Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 5:03 p.m.

Several Crewe Alexandra supporters are currently in Russia enjoying the World Cup and are tweeting at me all the time about the atmosphere. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as football fans around the world and in Europe enjoy safe standing, UK fans should be given the same choice?

Mr Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 5:03 p.m.

I agree. The case that rail seats work has been well made in Germany over a number of years, so the idea that we would be taking a step into the unknown is simply untrue. We see that this works abroad; indeed, I think most people would say that the atmosphere in German stadiums is better than in ours. The case for safe standing has been made. We will obviously need to consult on this change if we are to make it; it would not be appropriate for us politicians to prejudge all the different aspects of this debate. I hope the Minister will encourage a review of this, because the case deserves sensible consideration.

In that meeting at the Riverside, we watched a really impressive presentation put together by a Bristol City fan. I can certainly obtain it and I urge hon. Members to watch it, because it sets out that case very clearly and emphasises that we are not returning to the bad old days of the ’80s and terraces. This debate is obviously in the shadow of history and it is all too easy to imagine that we are calling for a regressive step, which this is not. It is absolutely about embracing the latest technology.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab) Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 5:04 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman has actually taken the words about those ’80s terraces right out of my mouth. There is a perception among some that we are going back to crowded terraces with far too many people being admitted. I thank the Huddersfield Town Supporters Association and Stand Up For Town. I was initially very cynical about safe standing, but they taught me about what it involves.

Mr Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 5:04 p.m.

I think that that is right, and I absolutely agree that this is something about which we need to listen and learn. The ground has moved.

A favourite story of my family’s is about my grandfather taking my uncle-to-be to watch Hartlepool United in the late ’70s. He famously remarked, “We are probably going to win today; our star striker is back.” My uncle asked, “From injury?” My grandfather replied, “No, from prison.” The days of that sort of culture in football are long gone, as I think the debate has reflected. We have heard Members from across the parties express passionately that our fans want to see safe standing. I hope the Minister listens and responds with favourable news in due course.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab) Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 5:06 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. My constituency is home to some of the most passionate football fans in the world. Manchester City and Manchester United—the premier league’s top two teams last season—have large fan bases in my constituency, and supporters of both clubs have been in touch with me in recent months to voice their concerns about the current legislation on safe standing.

Those fans are not as fortunate as fans of another local team, Rochdale AFC, who have a standing section in their Spotland stadium. The Minister will recall that I recently questioned her about the dual use of that stadium for football and rugby league and the differing attitudes to safe standing dependent on the type of game being played. It is therefore particularly important to me to make the case for safe standing in the debate. It is important to say that there are understandable sensitivities owing to the Hillsborough disaster. We are all aware of the tragedy of Hillsborough and we respect the views of the families. However, we are debating the introduction of safe standing, which has the support of many fans, and much evidence to support it.

It is also important to look at the technological advancements that have developed since the Taylor report. We have seen the introduction of rail seating in several European stadiums, particularly in Germany. Notably, seats in Borussia Dortmund’s stadium can be locked upright, allowing supporters to stand, and each row has a safety barrier to improve crowd control. Dortmund’s fans have a reputation for being among the most boisterous in the world, so if Dortmund can have good crowd control in a safe standing environment, it sends a clear message to the rest of Europe that those advancements are working.

We must also look at our own stadiums and how they are adapting to the modern game. My recent visits to Old Trafford have involved standing in the singing section, and as somebody said to me earlier today, there is a reason why people stand up in church to sing hymns. The seats in that singing section are not used by anybody, and those fans would be far safer in a railed safe standing area than being hemmed in by tip-up seats. Hon. Members who have visited Wembley stadium will have encountered this problem too, and I am told that the same thing happens at Manchester City’s Etihad stadium, although I am not a frequent visitor to that particular ground. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) says that they would not have me.

Football supporters have made it clear that they want this choice, which is provided at rugby matches, music festivals, horse racing and other events. The Government now need to listen to supporters who, along with clubs and safety experts, want reform of the all-seater legislation.