It rather feels as if the debate over safe standing at top level football matches is only just kicking into gear. For some years, the case has been made, slowly and persuasively, for the introduction of the type of seating that has been seen in football grounds in Germany for some years and it is starting to feel as if this argument is starting to feel as if it is starting to gain some traction. Clubs such as Aston Villa and Hull City have come out in favour of trialling the introduction of safe standing, but today, for the first time that anybody is aware of, a football club came out as being explicitly against the idea, and that club was Brighton & Hove Albion.
This has come about as a result of a discussion and poll on the matter on the club’s supporters forum North Stand Chat, which resulted, as other polls of this nature, with an overwhelming vote in favour of the principle of trialling it. One supporter contacted a forum member, Paul Camillin, who also works as the club’s Head of Media, to find out whether the club would add its name to the list of those already in favour of trialling it or whether it would enter discussions with supporter representatives following recent issues concerning over-zealous stewarding in some parts of The American Express Community Stadium during recent matches. His response was, perhaps, not quite what the club’s supporters might have been hoping for:
The club does not support any move for “safe standing” in football stadia and is not considering such a move for the American Express Community Stadium. We have just spent over £100 million developing a state of the art all-seated football stadium, recently named best new venue in the world. One of our main aims was to make the stadium fully inclusive for anyone who wishes to watch and enjoy football, regardless of their age, sex, height, or physical condition, and for them to do so in an atmosphere that is conducive to comfort, great views, and good behaviour. This is in stark contrast to standing areas where a large percentage of the general football watching population are excluded because they would be unable to actually see the pitch. In turn, standing areas create the potential for poor behaviour to go undetected and unresolved. As a club that is doing all it can to promote a family event atmosphere within the stadium and on its approaches, this would be a backward step.
There are arguments that can be made against safe standing, particularly coming from a club that has just paid £93m to build a new stadium and a further £13m to increase its capacity from 22,500 to 27,350 seats. The tone of the response, however, was for some Brighton supporters a further disconnect between the club and its fans since it moved into its new home. This issue is, as you can see above, briefly addressed in its response, but the other arguments put forward indicate that the club has no interest in an issue which is clearly interesting a proportion of its fan-base, whilst comments such as, “standing areas create the potential for poor behaviour to go undetected and unresolved” not only have little basis in reality, but also could be interpreted as an expectation on the part of the club itself that its own supporters could not be trusted in the event that safe standing was to become a reality.
Quite why the club – it would be unfair to pin the statement made on Camillin personally, since several Brighton supporters have already pointed out that this would be highly unlikely to be his personal opinion on the matter – chose to take such a pugnacious stance of the subject is not fully known. If he is in charge of the clubs PR and media, it might have been expected that, even if the club is – as many may be expected to be – deeply opposed to it in principle or for any other reason, a more tactful stance to take might have been to recognise that its supporters were expressing a degree of approval in the idea and play a “wait & see” game. There are no guarantees that the introduction of safe standing areas will ever come to pass, after all. For one thing, the matter has to be agreed by parliament, and even if it overcomes this hurdle it seems unlikely that the introduction of safe standing areas would be made compulsory, so the club would almost certainly not be forced into taking out its freshly-installed seats and replacing them with a safe-standing section.
On top of this, there is also the possibility that safe standing might even turn out to be passed through parliament, introduced by a number of clubs and end up being a commercial success which increases much-needed revenues into clubs. To make such a definite statement so early in what may well be a long process for those that are in favour of its introduction doesn’t seem to make much practical sense, even if we set to one side for a moment any concerns over the manner in which the club’s viewpoint was projected. There is nothing inherently dangerous about safe standing areas (as can be seen from the experience of it in Germany, where it is commonplace), and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that this statement betrays a somewhat troubling attitude towards its own support. At a time when the capacity of its home ground has just been expanded and the club is failing to sell out on a week in week out basis, it might even be considered a risky policy. Brighton & Hove Albion, in spite of the massive increase in attendances that the move to Falmer has brought about, cannot quite afford to take its supporters for granted just yet.
It is, perhaps, the supporter involvement in the history of the club that has made this intransigent stance so difficult to understand. It was the supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion who fought so vociferously for The Goldstone Ground to be saved and who campaigned so rigorously for the move to Falmer. From the outside, it has always looked as if this was a club at which the supporters and the institution of the club itself has appeared to be one. The tone of the club’s statement on safe standing, however, seems to have suggested to some of its own support that this may even be on the way to not being the case any more. At a time during which a sense of dissatisfaction with football on the part of supporters in a general sense seems to be growing, it’s a risky path for any football club to be following right now.
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