I was very pleased to speak up for Lincoln in this week’s Safe Standing Debate. I’ve had lots of emails from constituents and have spoken with the Imps about it too. I firmly believe that the fans should be given the option to stand safely at matches; currently fans do stand and this causes both inconvenience for others who want to sit (such as the elderly and children), as well as being a dangerous thing to do for 90 minutes in an area not designed for standing.
Lincoln is a perfect example of how football can be at the very heart of a community’s identity. When you walk up the High Street, nearly every window (including my constituency office) still proudly displays an Imps flag from our triumphant Checkatrade trophy win earlier this year.
Many of my friends, my family, my office staff, people I knew as local councillors and my constituents are all Imps fans.
When I interviewed Imps Manager Danny Cowley earlier this year, he said that he was struck by “how much allegiance the people have, not just with the football club, but with the city and how proud people are to be Lincoln.”
For many people, 3pm on a Saturday afternoon is the highlight of their week, often a real family event and in some cases, what people who don’t have a lot of spare cash choose to spend their money on. Football cuts right across social class, and the unique atmosphere of a game offers pure escapism and a chance to feel connected to your community.
I’m happy to support the English Football League’s ‘Stand up for Choice’ campaign, which aims to give power to fans, clubs and local safety authorities to allow for a small area inside a stadium to be designated for “safe standing.”
I’m satisfied that this isn’t a return to the dangerous crowds of thirty years ago; thankfully, we have moved away from the time when football stadiums could not safely contain the excitement of a game. In my view too, numbers allowed in safe standing zones should be capped to keep them at a safe level, and specialised rail seating or safety bars should be used to make sure fans are protected.
Safe standing zones would in fact make stadiums safer places than they currently are.
Yet despite this clear consensus, the government are not listening to football fans. And that’s despite the fact that 94% of the 33,000 football fans who responded to an EFL survey wanted to be able to choose between sitting and standing in safe, licensed areas.
The proposals also have the support of safety experts and football clubs The Sports Minister rejected a Safe Standing application from West Brom FC, claiming only a ‘vocal minority’ of fans were in support. Government Ministers have not met with safety authorities in the last two months, and they haven’t spoken to any supporters’ groups.
Given that consensus on safe standing, the government shouldn’t be launching another review, they should be pushing forward and changing the law – as a Labour government will.
I believe that MPs should listen to fans in our constituencies and grant them the choice to support their team in a manner which is safe, and which preserves that special atmosphere which brings people together at Sincil Bank and at stadiums across the UK.