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Safe-Standing at Reading?

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The Football Supporters’ Federation’s campaign for safe-standing is really taking off, with more and more column inches discussing this and more and more clubs coming out in support of a trial of safe-standing. So perhaps now is a good time to review what exactly safe-standing is, what the campaign is all about, and how this might be applied to Reading - plus what you can do to help support the campaign.

I appreciate this is a long article, but this is a big subject with a lot of arguments to cover, so please bear with me – and by the time you get to the end, if you’re convinced by the arguments please send a couple of emails to add your support to the campaign.

What is Safe-Standing?

When they talk about safe-standing, many people think of a return to terraces. But that’s certainly not the case –big old terraces of the past, even relatively small terraces like the South Bank at Elm Park are dead and are never coming back. Instead, a safe-standing area is an area with lateral rails running along the area to stop any crowd surges – these are used very successfully in stadia in Germany and elsewhere abroad, and perfectly shown by these rail seats from Hannover.Hannoverrailseats_medium

And although there are "seats" shown in the picture, they’re hardly ever used and remain locked in that upright position and are not available to the supporter to use when this is a safe-standing area. They're only there so that if the ground hosts a European or World Cup tie the seats can be used – but that means the area will have a lower capacity. So it's important to understand that this area is EITHER a safe-standing area OR a seated area. It's NOT a standing area where people get an optional seat if they want to sit down.


What are the advantages to supporters?

The advantages are too numerous to list all of them. Apart from incidental advantages like improving atmospheres in grounds and providing a potential opportunity for lower prices, the biggest, clearest and glaringly-obvious advantage is that safe-standing areas would provide supporters with choice – the choice to watch matches in the way they most enjoy. It’s clear to anyone who attends matches that there is a significant number of supporters who prefer to stand, and it’s acknowledged by current law and ground regulations that supporters will stand "at times of excitement" – it’s only "persistent standing" that is currently prohibited.

But as well as catering for those who want to stand (and most surveys of supporters show that this number is typically between 30-50% of respondents) there are many people who don’t want to stand – or can’t do so. Under the current ground regulations, enforced by local licensing authorities through each club’s Safety Advisory Group (Reading Borough Council, in the case of Reading) clubs have no way to differentiate areas as "standing" or "non-standing" so those who can’t or don’t want to stand are likely to be behind someone who will and does stand. And if that person in front does so, quite legitimately, at "times of excitement" then those are the very worst times to be blocking the view of the person behind.

It's clearly not rocket science to see that the best solution for absolutely everyone would be to separate supporters who want to stand and those who want to sit into their own areas, each custom-designed to let them safely watch in the way that suits them most – and that’s the essence of the safe-standing campaign.

What are the advantages to clubs?

Quite apart from the obvious answer that any business is likely to do better in the long-term if they provide their customers with the facilities they want and which will enable them to enjoy the match-day experience more, there are a number of other advantages for clubs

· Increased capacity

According to Green Guide figures for the amount of space required for people sitting and standing, a safe-standing are would allow an 80% greater capacity than the same area as a seated area. In the above picture, you’ll see that there are two steps between each rail, which would allow two rows of people to be stand, compared to only one row when sitting (sitting people need a "row for the legs and a row for the bum"!). But as people move from side to side more when standing they need slightly more lateral space when standing, so instead of ten people side to side seated you can only have nine when standing. Taken together, this means that a current row of ten people sitting can be replaced with two rows of nine, which is a capacity increase of 80% for any area.

For a club selling out regularly, this can be a quick, cheap and easy way to increase their capacity. Taking the MadStad as an example, converting just 15% of seats into a safe standing area would increase the total capacity from just over 24,000 to over 27,100, with over 6,500 safe-standing places in addition to over 20,000 seats.

· Increased income

This quick and easy increase in capacity means that the financial payback on converting to safe-standing can be surprisingly quick – in the order of a couple of seasons only in some cases. Obviously the costs vary from stadium to stadium, and there are other factors like escape routes and concourse capacities that also apply (especially in the case of the MadStad) but there is a very sound business case that should appeal to Club CEOs on financial grounds alone.

· Increased attendances and improved atmosphere

There’s also a whole demographic of supporters who don’t come to matches because they can’t stand – or can’t stand the sterile atmosphere. Everyone agrees that safe-standing would improve the atmosphere at matches by a quantum leap – and that would make far more difference than all the rumble-sticks, clapper-banners and exhortations to "Make some noise" in the world ever would.

· Reduced tension with stewards

Everyone who’s ever looked at the current ground regulations regarding persistent standing knows how unworkable these are. At virtually every match, you only have to wait for the cries of "Stand Up for ... ..." to see how any attempt to get a small number of people to sit results in much larger numbers standing. Stewards spend a disproportionate amount of their time and energy trying to enforce the unenforceable – causing unnecessary tension with supporters. Stewards shouldn’t be doing this – and if they weren’t there’d be a need for fewer of them and the attrition rate amongst them might be lower, saving the club money.

So what now – what’s the campaign all about?

Most supporters "get it" and appreciate how safe-standing areas would improve the match-day experience for everyone, including those who prefer to sit. As just one example from many studies, a Football Fans’ Census survey in 2007 found that 92 per cent of 2,100 respondents wanted to see safe standing areas at their club.

And more and more people within the game are starting to "get it" too – but the majority of politicians don’t get it. They either don’t know about the game or are hiding behind old assumptions that standing is "dangerous". Just for the record, those assumptions have been thoroughly debunked, and you won’t find anyone still trying to argue with any credibility that "standing is dangerous" – statistics and the experience in Germany just show that that generalisation just doesn’t stack up any more. And, if anyone does want to use the "safety" argument, surely it’s obvious that standing in an area designed for standing is inherently safer than standing in an area designed for seating?

But one problems is that all we have now are arguments and surveys, without clear evidence of just how well this would work in practice. Which is why supporters of safe-standing want to see trials performed to prove (or disprove!) these arguments and to gather proper, scientific evidence. The Scottish Premier League are discussing organising trials of safe-standing north of the border, but in England such trials are currently prohibited by law, and would require a statutory instrument amending the Football Spectators Act 1989 to allow any trial or pilot to take place.

And that’s where the campaign is now – Aston Villa are looking to stage a properly organised, scientifically monitored pilot to gather evidence of the practicalities of safe-standing at Villa Park, but legally they can’t do so at the moment. And, demolishing another old argument from opponents of safe-standing, that "there’s no demand for this from within the game itself", numerous clubs - who do "get it" - have come out in support of this trial. At the time of writing, clubs who publicly support a pilot of safe-standing are : Aston Villa, Sunderland and Swansea City in the Premier League; Bristol City, Burnley, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, Derby County, Hull City, Peterborough, Watford and Wolves in the Championship; plus AFC Wimbledon, Aldershot, Brentford and Exeter City in tiers 3 and 4 (where standing is currently permitted). There are also numerous other clubs who see the benefit of safe-standing and who support a trial but have not officially lent their support to the campaign. And momentum is growing – just today Arsene Wenger has said he is "100% behind safe-standing."

Personally, I can’t see why anyone would oppose – or even not support - a trial of safe-standing such as the one proposed at Villa. If opponents of the idea have any confidence in their arguments, then surely they’ll be happy to see them proved in real-world situations? Saying "no" to a pilot suggests to me either a failure to understand the issues or just a refusal to even consider them.

And what’s the situation at Reading?

Reading is amongst the clubs who have yet to publicly support the idea of a pilot of safe-standing, although I’m convinced that they do "get it" and do understand that – but for various reasons they haven’t yet felt able to publicly come out and support the campaign.

Safestandingrfc_medium

I believe this is partly because of a worry that some supporters will take the Club’s support for the safe-standing campaign and for a safe-standing pilot to be a statement of intent to install safe-standing at the Madejski – but I also believe that supporters are perceptive enough to appreciate and understand that supporting a trial makes no commitment to installing a safe-standing area at the MadStad in the near future.

In any case, there are specific issues at the MadStad which would make this difficult and expensive in the short-term – one issue is the rake of the stands, which would require modification, but a more significant issues revolves around concourse capacity and escape routes. Introducing safe-standing areas at the MadStad would increase capacity, and anyone who’s been in a MadStad concourse at half-time or just after full-time knows just how under-pressure these areas are, so these are a complication that would make installing safe-standing at the MadStad impractical without other major, expensive improvements.

Having said that, with a stadium expansion being talked about again, there certainly is scope for the future if the timing is right – which is why it’s important for Reading supporters in favour of safe-standing to do everything they can to support the campaign for a change in the law to allow safe-standing before any potential stadium expansion moves forward. And the trial at Aston Villa, and Reading FC’s support of this to help make it a reality, are the first steps in this. See below for what you can do to help by sending just a couple of emails.

And how might safe-standing work at Reading?

With the proviso above that nothing could reasonably be expected to happen without a change in the law and a stadium expansion, there are a number of ways safe-standing might be implemented in an expanded MadStad.

My personal favourite vision, though, would be for the rows at concourse level and below (currently rows A-J) in the South, East and North stands to be converted to safe-standing. Of course, that would mean losing the seats from 3 or 4 rows behind them to ensure that the sight-lines for the front row of seats were maintained, but the additional capacity would compensate for that. I think that would transform the whole stadium and its atmosphere, and when full would be an intimidating and awesome sight (and as I’m not a teenager I use the word "awesome" with its original meaning, rather than as a throwaway platitude!) The traditionalist in me also likes that this would represent an homage to Archibald Leitch, the doyen of stadium design, who more than a century concluded that one of the best configurations of stadium design was a seated stand with a standing "paddock" in front of it.

But there are numerous alternatives – all or some of the above might be implemented in just one or two stands, or maybe the corners of the ground might be suitable areas for safe-standing conversion. Or, for those who still make an unproven link between standing and "disorder", a conversion of the North Stand to safe-standing would be in order – using the misplaced logic that "trouble-makers prefer to stand", this would ensure that any potential trouble-makers migrated to the standing area, away from the current potential flare-point where Y26 meets the away enclosure.

The possibilities are really many and varied with any expansion, but only if the campaign achieves its aims and the pilot at Villa is allowed to take place.

What can you do to help?

If you support the concept of safe-standing, there are two quick and easy ways you can help the campaign, just by sending two emails :


1. Email Reading Football Club

Send an email customerservice@readingfc.co.uk and tell them that you’d like the club to publically support the safe-standing campaign and add their support to those clubs supporting a pilot of safe-standing. Don’t forget to give your name/contact details/member card number so they know you’re a genuine supporter.

The club is committed to supporter engagement, so will be more than happy to receive emails on this subject – the more they receive, the more likely they are to add their support to the campaign, and the support of all football clubs is needed to let the politicians know that this is an issue there is demand for.

Reading FC like to pride themselves on being supporter-friendly as well as forward-looking and innovative – now is their chance to prove it!

2. Email your MP

Send an email to your MP, asking them, as a constituent, to sign Early Day Motion number 573 which calls for the INTRODUCTION OF A PILOT OF NEW STANDING TECHNOLOGY IN FOOTBALL STADIA. For the wording of the EDM, follow this link : http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/573

Make sure you say that this EDM is in support of an evidence-gathering trial of safe-standing– some MPs have sent a glib, standard response to constituents saying that they are against safe-standing without any evidence, without taking the time or trouble to appreciate that the whole point of such a trial is to gather evidence!

You can email your MP quickly and easily from this link: http://fsfsafestandingcampaign.appspot.com/mp/write It even tells you who your MP is if you don’t know already!

If you live in or around Berkshire, below is some information regarding local MPs to bear in mind when writing :

· Basingstoke Constituency - Maria Miller MP

Maria Miller is a Government Minister and so by parliamentary convention cannot sign EDMs. If you are a constituent, please email Maria asking her to support the safe-standing campaign by sending a letter to the Minister responsible.

· Bracknell Constituency - Phillip Lee MP

To his credit, Phillip Lee supports the safe-standing campaign, but will not sign EDMs on a point of principle. He has promised to support the safe-standing campaign by sending a letter to the Minister responsible, so if you are a constituent, please email Phillip asking him to make sure you support the campaign and asking him to reflect this in his letter.

· Henley Constituency - John Howell MP

John Howell is Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Leader of the House, and so by parliamentary convention cannot sign EDMs. If you are a constituent, please email John asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by sending a letter to the Minister responsible.

· Maidenhead Constituency - Theresa May MP

Theresa May is Home Secretary and so by parliamentary convention cannot sign EDMs. If you are a constituent, please email her asking her to support the safe-standing campaign by sending a letter to the Minister responsible.

· Newbury Constituency - Richard Benyon MP

Richard Benyon is a Government Minister and so by parliamentary convention cannot sign EDMs. If you are a constituent, please email him asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by sending a letter to the Minister responsible.

· North East Hampshire Constituency Rt. Hon James Arbuthnot MP

James Arbuthnot is able to sign EDMs but has not yet supported EDM 573. If you are a constituent, please email him asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by adding his signature to this EDM.

· North West Hampshire Constituency – Sir George Young

Sir George Young is Chief Whip of the House of Commons and so by parliamentary convention cannot sign EDMs. If you are a constituent, please email him asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by sending a letter to the Minister responsible.

· Reading East Constituency - Rob Wilson MP

Rob Wilson is Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS), and so by parliamentary convention cannot sign EDMs. If you are a constituent, please email Rob asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by sending a letter to the Minister responsible.

· Reading West Constituency Alok Sharma MP

Alok Sharma is able to sign EDMs but has not yet supported EDM 573. If you are a constituent, please email him asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by adding his signature to this EDM.

· Slough ConstituencyFiona Mactaggart MP

Fiona Mactaggart is able to sign EDMs but has not yet supported EDM 573. If you are a constituent, please email her asking her to support the safe-standing campaign by adding his signature to this EDM.

· Windsor Constituency Adam Afriye MP

Adam Afriye is able to sign EDMs but has not yet supported EDM 573. If you are a constituent, please email him asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by adding his signature to this EDM.

· Wokingham ConstituencyJohn Redwood MP

John Redwood is able to sign EDMs but has not yet supported EDM 573. If you are a constituent, please email her asking him to support the safe-standing campaign by adding his signature to this EDM.

Even if your MP can’t or won’t sign EDM’s, please still email them asking for their support – the more emails they get the more they’ll take the issue seriously and investigate the issues. And please also let us know of any response you get by email to urzz1871@btinternet.com so we can keep track of what each MP is saying.

Thanks for reading this, and thanks for your support!