Now I know I am getting obsessed when everything seems to link to Brexit! How can safe standing in football possibly show us this mentality?
I am an ardent Bradford City Fan, so I’m not in it for the glory, although we have had our moments. Any football fan knows that the highs and the lows are part of supporting your team, although for us lower league supporters, the moaning by Arsenal fans because they finish 4th or 5th is a little grating. My first match watching Bradford was in the late 70’s and I write this knowing I have been supporting them and watching/playing football for 40 years, it makes me feel a little old.
So, West Brom and Celtic have been asking for safe standing areas. This is because some fans don’t like sitting down and also people naturally stand when anything exciting happens. So, it seems logical to get people to stand and satisfy this urge and then enforce the seating more vigorously. This seems sensible but has many pitfalls.
Firstly, it is dependent on the stewarding in a club. I have been to Bradford and many away sections and have rarely seen anyone picked up for foul and abusive language and only recently are racist comments being chased. This only seems to happen when a player complains and not when a steward sanctions a fan for it. I am now sitting in the family section as my 10-year-old is keen to follow the mighty Bantams. It is amazing when you sit with a child how more you notice the language, homophobic comments and undertones of violence aimed at players and officials. This does put people off, whether you think people are too sensitive or not, in the family section and elsewhere. I would expect something to be said to the fans, who feel paying their money is sufficient excuse to behave like this, it rarely is. The point is, stewards do not pick up the basics, never mind making individuals sit continuously throughout the game. If they don’t do it now, they are not going to do it in the future and so we will have a slow trickle of greater standing areas. Some would welcome this.
The second issue is the demographics now going to the football. What was a very male dominated environment, has changed to a more family friendly audience and female participation. If anyone has not seen ‘Fever Pitch’* as a film, I would recommend it. But the key moment is the game which coincided with Hillsborough. When the Arsenal scored and the crowd went mad, that fear and lack of control of the crowd, that they show the female character suffer, was a weekly occurrence at every busy ground.
Now for every decent fan who wants to stand up and enjoy that experience, I wonder the type of fan who would also be attracted to this area? Are these the types who follow stewards guidance?
The change to seating was because people were dying in football grounds. Supporters were injured regularly and fighting happened inside and outside the ground. Do we want a situation that these types feel they will enjoy coming to the football again? I know some who have never been a hooligan in their lives, will feel aggrieved that they are being labelled like this. But hand on heart, people know that any supporter who leans towards being overly aggressive, will be attracted to this section? It is naïve to think that they will not be attracted to this section and all the issues this will cause.
It is a backward step on what has been a massive improvement in the sport. Football violence is down from the the 80’s. How many fans have died because of having seating in stadiums? How safe do we all feel now because of the safety in stadiums? But we have a group of sentimental supporters, who want for a bygone atmosphere, but seem to forget all the issues that occurred weekly because of the stands and attitude within the ground.
Hence the link to Brexit. The changes made throughout the 90’s and 2000’s happened for a reason. People dying is a reason for change. Would we change to having no seatbelts or having smoking back in pubs. It is not a restriction on rights, but lifesaving changes made for a reason. In the same way, all the small changes of shifting decisions we make to a centralised European system happened because it saved money, enabled opportunity for everyone in Europe and supported peace within a widening area, importantly for us in Northern Ireland. The fascists who want to change this think they can bring back a bygone age of the empire and British rule. They sold a past that we changed for a reason. So, we could feel safer and be better off. This is why we have all seater stadiums. This is why we are members of the EU. This is why we must stop both changes and be better off in our lives and in a football stadium. I have been at a ground when supporters have died. I don’t want to take a massive step back in life and football.
*Fever Pitch by Nick Holby – Excellent book and film