Once again, standing and stewarding is in the news, and a quick look at Twitter and Facebook shows how many people don’t understand the situation regarding standing. Here I'll attempt to set the record straight on the current position (and what should come in the future) regarding standing, by looking at a number of phrases we tend to hear again and again.
“I got thrown out for standing”
No you didn’t. Standing isn’t prohibited in itself at football matches – but “persistent standing” certainly is. In fact, in his report which directly led to the Football Spectators Act 1989, Lord Justice Taylor said that it was inevitable that supporters would stand at moments of excitement. That’s understood by everyone and so standing in itself isn’t against ground regulations – just “persistent standing.”
So it’s inconceivable that anyone is ever ejected just for “standing”. In reality, people are ejected for refusing to sit when asked, or for forcibly answering back, or for aggressively questioning why they need to sit, or any combination of the above – after all, if people were ever “thrown out for standing” then there’d be hundreds outside the back of the stand at every match. It’s complications from refusing to sit or continuing to stand that result in people being ejected.
“The stewards are picking on us.”
Everyone agrees that this particular piece of legislation, Football Spectators Act 1989, is a real dog’s breakfast of a law, badly thought through and unenforceable in many ways, but it’s the one we have at the moment, and the one that the football club has to operate under, so it’s worth understanding the background to it and what it means to everyone. Under this legislation, all clubs in the top two divisions are deemed to be “all-seater” – with clubs promoted to tier two having three years to convert to this state, unless (like Brentford, for example) they are able to demonstrate plans to relocate in the near future, in which case they can apply for a special dispensation to delay conversion to all-seater status.
But for clubs that are all-seater, they have to be seen to be doing all they can to comply with this legislation, and they have to be able to demonstrate this to the local safety licensing authority, in this case Reading Borough Council, who themselves are monitored by the national authority responsible for safety at football ground, the Sports Ground Safety Authority. Only if the football club do this, as well as complying with a whole host of other safety requirements, do Reading Borough Council issue a safety certificate and allow games to be held at the MadStad.
Note that it’s all about being seen to enforce the all-seating regulations – all parties recognise that ensuring full compliance with this legislation is practically impossible, so it’s best endeavours only, making as many people as possible sit for as long as possible. So the “no persistent standing” regulations are built into the ground regulations – ground regulations which the stewards are there to enforce. They don’t get a choice which ground regulations to enforce and which to ignore – they do their job, trying to ensure there is no persistent standing in the ground. And, importantly for the football club, being seen to do this a much as possible. Otherwise the football club come under pressure and criticism from RBC and the SGSA, with potential penalties leading and the threat of withdrawal of their safety certificate.
“The stewards have no authority over me, if it’s the law they need the police involved.”
(I actually saw someone come out with this astounding statement on Facebook!) The legalities are that the Madejski Stadium is a private place, owned by Reading Football Club. Like any private place, the owners have a legal right to control who is in their property, and the legal right to eject anyone who does not follow their regulations when on the property – no different to a pub, a club or a supermarket. But it’s even tighter than that, because when you buy a ticket for the Madejski Stadium, you enter into a legally binding contract to abide by the ground regulations for the stadium – these are on notices by every turnstile and on the club’s website. It’s worth quoting point 2 from this in full:
“ 2. Ticket holders and/or purchasers of tickets will be responsible for compliance and observance with this Ticket Use Terms and Conditions and with any ground regulations governing persons entering, present at or leaving the Madejski Stadium (the Stadium located at Bennett Road, Reading, Berkshire RG2 0FL) as may be specified by Reading Football Club (Reading FC, RFC or the Club) from time to time. Misconduct of the ticket holder or nominee, failing to adhere to this Ticket Use Policy or acting in a manner which the Club considers is detrimental to its interests or is likely in the reasonable opinion of the Club to bring Football or the Club into disrepute shall permit the Club to confiscate or forfeit (in each case without compensation) the ticket, to prevent access to the Stadium for the fixture in question and/or to ban the ticket holder from attending future matches or other events at the Stadium for such time as the Club deems appropriate. The club will seek where relevant to prosecute to the full extent of the law where applicable as well as informing other bodies either Football Regulatory or Law enforcement of any breaches of this nature. “
That seems to cover it very comprehensively – as soon as you enter the stadium with your ticket, you are fully bound by the stated ground regulations, and if you are in breach of them the club has the power to remove you. In this case, the club’s representatives are their stewards.
You might not be breaking the law by persistent standing, but the club has a legal responsibility to ensure that you don’t, and a need to be seen to enforce this. They don’t need police involvement to enforce their civil right to remove you from their property, but of course the police are there as a backup if you don’t go peacefully if asked.
“They’re picking on the youngsters”
Are they really? Or are the youngsters the ones who are more likely to be over-laden with testosterone and bravado, eager to show their mates how anti-authority they are, and so the ones more likely to kick up a fuss by answering back or making a show of refusing to do what they’re asked? This is the sort of thing that young lads have done for years at matches (I know I did!) and is probably something that will never change. From years of watching matches, including shadowing stewards at matches and watching from inside stadium control rooms, I think that’s a much more likely occurrence than youngster being specifically targeted.
There are a couple of other factors that may come into play here, too. Lack of life experience and experience of going to matches without parents may mean that younger fans don’t have to nous to understand that the stewards and the football club hold all the aces in any situation like this, and that if you’re determined to stand the way to do it is to sit down when you’re asked, then to stand up again when the stewards are gone. It’s a silly rigmarole forced on us by a terrible piece of legislation, but it’s the only way to handle it – acting aggrieved, trying to argue the toss of refusing to do what the stewards ask will only have one outcome here…
Also, most of the recent bother seems to have been at the front of the stand. Guidelines given to stewards are to ask crowds to sit down from the front and to work their way up the stand – for obvious reasons, as if you ask those at the back to sit first they immediately can’t see if anyone’s standing in front of them. So anyone standing at the front of the stand is likely to be asked to sit down far more frequently than anyone at the back, and the stewards will take far more interest in anyone at the front standing than they will at the back. I hope it’s self-explanatory what this means for anyone who wants to stand those who like to stand for as long as possible in a seated-area…
“They let the away fans stand”
An old, old chestnut that’s trotted out time and time again as a justification for standing – but one that’s always wrong and never, ever understands the reality of the situation.
Remember earlier when I said that the club has to be seen to be doing all they can to comply with the current legislation? Well, everyone agrees that it’s impossible for stewards to enforce standing regulations when a large away crowd is determined to stand – even the SGSA recognises the practicalities of the situation. With that in mind, when an away crowd is determined to stand the safety focus on the away end changes to one of keeping aisles and gangways clear, rather than trying to enforce standing there.
But the crucial difference between an away crowd and a home crowd is that anyone is an away crowd comes once a season and may never come back, nor are they easily identifiable. But members of a home crowd do (hopefully!) want to come back, and they can be identified through their ticket or seat number. This gives the home club a lot more power over home fans than over away ones, and so when they are charged with being seen to do all they can to enforce ground regulations, they naturally use the power they have over home fans to concentrate their efforts in this area. It’s being seen to do all they can – and if they can’t enforce standing in an away end but can enforce it in a home area that’s exactly what they do – it is all they can do, after all.
You might think it unfair, but it’s the inevitable consequence of a rubbish law – and hey, how long has life been fair? But that’s the situation we’re in – not that away fans are allowed to stand, but that away fans can’t be stopped from standing. But home fans can be stopped from standing, so they are.
But anyone using this as a justification for standing themselves is liable to be laughed at by any steward – who has no doubt heard the same arguments a million times before – and insisting on it relentlessly will almost certainly get them ejected.
And, anyway, for anyone who knows how the real world works, have you ever, ever, come across any occasion when “they’re breaking the rules so I’m going to do the same” has worked as a justification? When you’re on the hard shoulder of the motorway, pulled over by the police after doing 80 mph, and someone zooms past doing at least a ton, do you really expect the cop to say “I couldn’t stop him, sir, but as he’s got away with it you’re now free to go, too.” Of course not – life’s not like that.
“They can stand in Scotland, why can’t they here?”
Saying this, you’ll be referring to the rail seating (aka safe-standing) section opened at Celtic Park in the summer. This has been massively popular, over-subscribed before it was opened, and which has earned rave reviews – even from those who previously opposed the idea of safe standing. A great example here details how Tony Barrett, previously unconvinced by the arguments for rail seating, was convinced by seeing it in action: https://www.joe.co.uk/sport/how-an-afternoon-at-celtic-park-made-up-my-mind-about-safe-standing-114916
As you’ll know, rail seating is widespread in Germany, and spreading further across Europe all the time (last week Feyenoord announced that they’ll be introducing a rail seating area for next season) but the area at Celtic is the first in the UK. I won’t bore you all with the exact legalities of what was required, but suffice to say that the differences of legislation between England and Scotland, with certain powers devolved to the Scotland Parliament, made this easier to introduce in Scotland than it would have been in England and Wales. Having said that, it was a real struggle for those at Celtic to get agreement from their local licensing authority to convert this area.
“Reading don’t support safe standing”
Absolutely wrong! Reading are on record as supporting safe standing, as shown in this report. The safe standing roadshow has visited the MadStad, and they’ve voted in favour of safe standing at Football League meetings over recent years.
But however much they may support the concept, their hands are tied. The law is the law, and whilst they are beholden to Reading Borough Council and the SGSA for their safety certificate their hands are tied – they have to enforce all-seater regulations as far as they can, and they have to see seen to be doing this.
“I prefer to sit so I don’t support safe-standing.”
An interesting viewpoint I hear quite often, but one that only makes sense for anyone who thinks that safe standing is intended to make everyone stand, or to convert all of a ground or stand into standing accommodation. But it’s not about that – it’s about giving everyone the choice of watching a game however they prefer, seated or standing, so making everyone stand would be as counter-productive as making everyone sit is!
The reality is that everyone wins with safe-standing. Those who want to stand can do so, while those who want to sit can do so as well – but without the hassle of having someone in front of them who wants to sit. With both sets of supporters in separate sections, designed to be safe for their own particular preference, everyone would be happy, and the continual grief and hassle that we have now from mixing standers and sitters would be gone in an instance. And the stewards would find their lives much easier too, as they’d not be constantly called on to enforce regulations that don’t work and aren’t practical, but which they have to be seen to enforce.
Surveys among supporters regularly post 80-90% in favour of safe standing areas, and I’m pleased to say that this demonstrates not only how many match-going supporters “get” the idea of safe standing, but also that those with the selfish viewpoint “I don’t want to stand so no-one should be allowed to” are very much in the minority.
“Safe standing will never happen!”
One way or another I’ve been campaigning for safe standing for over 16 years and the
landscape now is much, much brighter than it’s ever been. More and more clubs are, like Reading, publicly giving their support to the concept, and voting accordingly at Football League and Premier League meetings, and the idea is now being seriously talked about by the Premier League – where only a few years ago it was consistently dismissed out of hand by them. And we all know where the power in football lies today - once the Premier League want something, they have the money and influence to make it happen, so politicians will soon come on board with the idea – although many are convinced already, with the Lib Dems and the Welsh Conservatives having support for safe standing as official policy.
I’ve already written over 2,500 words on this, and I could write that many again on where the safe standing campaign is and where it’s going, but perhaps that’s a Tilehurst End piece for another day. Suffice to say I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been, and more convinced than ever that in England and Wales we will see rail seated areas legally introduced and safe standing become an everyday thing at matches, and that this will happen in years rather than in decades. The time is right, the arguments against safe standing have all been defeated, and the clamour for this is starting to become deafening. It is on the way.
(But whether Reading FC have the money or the demand for tickets to convert an area to safe standing straight away is a whole other question. The key people at the club definitely want to – but conversion costs money, and you need to know who your owners are and that they’re putting real money into the club before you can commit to that. But that really is a whole other article!)