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'And the Sun Shines Now' - A must-read book

posted 19 Aug 2016, 08:18 by Jon Darch   [ updated 18 Sep 2016, 13:00 ]

Over the last few years, I’ve read three great books about how football and society in Britain has changed. Each in their own way tell a similar story: a tale of innocence lost, chronicling the sad transition to rampant commercialisation of what we all once called the beautiful game.

The first of the three books was called just that, ‘The Beautiful Game’ by David Conn. The second was David Goldblatt’s ‘The Game of Our Lives’. And the third, which I read this summer, ‘And the Sun Shines Now’ by Adrian Tempany.

All three books give an account set within a socio-economic and personal context of the history of football in England from the late 1980s through to the year of publication. As my own ‘formative’ football years were the 1970s, the period all three books describe is one I’ve lived through and experienced along with the authors. Indeed, I feel a certain affinity to all three men.

As a student in Manchester, if I couldn’t afford the train fare on a Saturday to go to see my own club, I’d stay in town and stand on the Kippax watching David Conn’s Manchester City. David Goldblatt is, like me, a supporter of a Bristol football club, albeit in his case the ‘wrong’ one! And Adrian Tempany clearly has the same admiration for many of the communal and socially inclusive aspects of the Bundesliga that likewise draw me to Berlin whenever possible to soak up life on the German terraces.

“As Kenneth Clarke MP later admitted, by the late 1980s Thatcher had grouped football supporters alongside militant trade unions and the IRA as ‘the enemy within’.”

“Supporters were now making way for ‘customers’.”

“… the Establishment washed its hands of the Hillsborough disaster and tossed football to the four winds.”

“The national sport was now the ‘football industry’.”

While these quotes are all from ‘And the Sun Shines Now’, similar sentiments are found in all three books. All three authors have shared experiences of the era concerned. Experiences I too share. Yet, one of us sees this period in English football from a very unique perspective, which makes his book all the more compelling and which adds an extra gravitas to what he says about how the game and how English society have changed. It is the perspective of a Hillsborough survivor. Adrian Tempany was on the Leppings Lane terrace that fateful day in April 1989 and only just lived to tell the tale.

“Three men directly in front of me were going – slowly turning blue, their faces changing from a ghostly pallor to a pale violet, their lips almost trembling with cold. Some people were covered in vomit. Some were weeping. Others were gibbering, trying to black out what was happening.

I was losing strength; I knew I couldn’t survive much longer. My head was trapped in a channel, looking slightly to the left, to the North Stand, when into that channel walked a policeman. He stopped and looked into the terrace and straight into my eyes. I knew I had him, and I slowly, limply mouthed the words: ‘Help. Help me. Help.’ The police officer narrowed his eyes, looked at me keenly and paused for a few seconds. Then he screwed up his mouth and smiled, uncertainly, and he walked off.”

This perspective, this context, so chillingly described in the opening chapter of his book, makes Adrian Tempany’s account of football’s transformation since 1989 a very unique and personal one. There’s a bitterness there at the handling of the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster by the Thatcher government and a sadness at the way in which the beautiful game then fell into the clutches of all-powerful pay TV. There are wistful reminiscences of carefree childhood and the ease of access to live football, set against accounts of modern stadia in the post-Taylor era with ever-aging crowds. “… the price to be paid for all-seater stadiums is that young adults are disappearing from the match” notes Tempany with evident sorrow.

But there are rays of hope, too. And Tempany finds these in Germany.

He visits fans and supporters groups at Schalke 04 HSV and St Pauli and talks fondly of the community spirit and democratic values he finds there. He faultlessly describes the membership structure of German clubs and the 50+1 rule and, much more importantly, conveys well what it means to the fans he meets to be members of their clubs and not merely ‘customers’ or ‘stakeholders’.

And for the first time in over 20 years, he watches a football match standing up. At Schalke in Gelsenkirchen. And loves how the fans there look out for one another: “In front of me on the Nordkurve a woman in her 30s was stood with her little girl, perhaps eight or nine years old. People in front had stood apart slightly so the little girl could see. She was rapt in the game.” And she wasn’t the only one wholly absorbed by the communal experience. Tempany was accompanied on his visit to Gelsenkirchen by his brother Martin, a Forest fan. “It is one thing to be welcomed into the heart of a Champions League club, as I had been at Schalke,” he says at the end of this chapter, “but Martin did not accompany me behind the scenes: he simply went to the Schalke-Frankfurt match, stood on a terrace with some football supporters and drank a few beers. His, if anything was the more genuine football experience – and he felt more connected to football in one weekend in Gelsenkirchen than he had been in Nottingham for years.”

In England, Tempany clearly feels, the connection between fan and football has been lost.

In examining how that has happened over the last quarter of a century, he lays the blame squarely at the feet of the Premier League, Sky and the football authorities that allowed them to turn the people’s game into a much-hyped, over-priced consumer product. He speaks to experts in child behaviour about the way in which ‘angst’ in British society has led to children having much less freedom in their lives, which he sees reflected in the low numbers of young fans now going to football games on their own. He covers the good work done to try to check the loss of clubs as true assets to their community by the likes of Andy Burnham, the Football Task Force and community schemes at clubs like Orient, Charlton and Spurs. But in this section of his book he nevertheless concludes that many clubs “have largely ceased to function as a forum for socialisation. The people no longer have a claim on the clubs at the heart of their communities because they can no longer afford to support them.”

As a campaigner for the introduction of safe standing areas in all-seater stadia, I was naturally also very interested in Tempany’s views on the campaign. As he recounts his experience of standing at the game in Gelsenkirchen, he notes that it is gathering momentum. He notes, too, that the Hillsborough Family Support Group is opposed to a return to standing. And he adds: “While I understand their view, I disagree – primarily because their loved ones were not killed by terracing, and for the authorities to suggest that they were only allowed the real culprits to get away with the deaths of the 96.” Indeed, Tempany maintains, it was this “false narrative” that reshaped English football. This false message that “standing was a disaster waiting to happen”.

“It wasn’t,” says Tempany. “The clubs had merely to get their houses in order, and the authorities to admit their failings around Hillsborough.”

Writing the final pages of ‘And the Sun Shines Now’ in the spring of 2016, Tempany looks forward with cautious optimism to an era when perhaps the authorities would start to see things differently. He notes that The FA had provided Wembley as a venue for the year’s annual Supporters’ Summit put on by the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct. But although he sees this as a welcome sign that the Association was now more willing to engage with supporters and listen to their concerns about the state of the game today, he still adds a note of caution, saying “it remains to be seen whether the truth about Hillsborough will encourage football’s governing body to acknowledge that so much of the modern game was built on a falsehood.”

You sense that he fears that just like that policeman who looked straight at him as he mouthed a cry for help from the Leppings Lane terrace, the authorities might likewise ignore the calls for greater dialogue from the fans and turn away.

As in the books by David Conn and David Goldblatt, a sense of melancholy thus also pervades much of ‘And the Sun Shines Now’. As his excellent book draws to a close, Tempany is not able to give us any definite hope that things will change, but in his final remarks he says it’s high time they should:

“It’s three years since Margaret Thatcher died. But the ‘mob’ that she and her henchmen once vilified, at Orgreave and at Hillsborough, are still here, and we have been cleared of all charges levelled against us.

Now, can we have our ball back, please?”

It’s a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.

And the Sun Shines Now: How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain by Adrian Tempany is published by Faber & Faber and is a must-read for anyone with an interest in ‘how Hillsborough and the Premier League changed Britain’.

It's time to remove standing ban, says ASI

posted 14 Aug 2016, 05:38 by Jon Darch   [ updated 14 Aug 2016, 05:43 ]

August 12th, 2016. The Adam Smith Institute, a leading Westminster think tank, concludes in a new report on safe standing that it is time for the government to lift the ban on standing at all-seater grounds in England and Wales.

It's time to remove standing ban, says Adam Smith Institute

"Tracey Crouch and the government should consider lifting the ban on  standing in the Championship and Premiership, and allowing clubs to convert seats to safe standing areas, under the guidelines laid out in the Green Guide, ensuring safety, comfort, and proper sightlines. The government has a chance to deliver a liberalization that will be popular across the board."

That's the conclusion drawn in a report on safe standing produced by the Adam Smith Institute, which bills itself as Britain's leading free market libertarian think tank.

The key points of the report state:
  • The UK has an effective ban on standing sections in football stadia in the top-two tiers of English & Welsh football
  • A recent inquiry does not find standing responsible for the Hillsborough Disaster; by contrast, poor  management and policing are judged the culprit; many other recent stadium disasters have happened despite all-seater stadia
  • Advances in seating technology and stadium management make ‘safe standing’ a plausible option for sections of UK football stadia
  • Experience from other sports, lower football tiers, and around Europe show standing can be safe
  • Fans overwhelmingly support the reintroduction of some standing in football stadia, including female fans, whenever they are asked
  • Standing can increase densities, sometimes modestly, and sometimes impressively: this means lower  prices for the same revenue, and more price points for clubs to offer
  • European clubs with standing in their stadia have a much wider variation between the cheapest and most expensive tickets: even if Premier League clubs kept their most expensive ticket the same price, bringing the ratio of standing available up to the European level would cut the average cheapest season ticket by 57%, from £514 to £221
  • The UK government should liberalise the safety regime to allow for limited safe standing sections in Premier League and Championship football clubs
The full report can be read here: Adam Smith Insitute - Safe Standing: Why it's time to remove the ban

Celtic open UK's first rail seating section

posted 26 Jul 2016, 11:42 by Jon Darch   [ updated 26 Jul 2016, 12:09 ]

Saturday 16th July 2016: a red letter day in the safe standing campaign. Celtic open the UK’s first rail seating section for their pre-season friendly against VfL Wolfsburg.

Celtic open UK's first rail seating section

It could hardly have been more appropriate: the UK’s first rail seating section opening in a game against VfL Wolfsburg, a club that has helped us on several occasions to show rail seats to UK fans, club executives and the media. And green ones at that!

The 2,975 green rail seats at Celtic Park went into use for the first time – or rather the rails above them did – as Brendan Rogers’ men stepped up their preparations for the new season with a tough friendly against the 2015 German Cup winners and Bundesliga runners-up.

Reaction to the new facility from the fans was 100% positive, as the pictures at the foot of the page show. Club officials, too, declared themselves very happy with the rail seating section, the installation of which their media team captured in this video.

The seats were lowered for the first time for the club’s Champions League qualifier on the following Wednesday (20th July) against Lincoln Red Imps and locked backed up for standing use three days later for another friendly, this time against Leicester City, thus demonstrating the great flexibility of stadium configuration that the rail seats provide.

After a thoroughly successful first three games for the rail seating section at Celtic Park, it must now be hoped that this shining example encourages clubs in England and Wales to lobby the relevant authorities to be allowed to create similar areas.

Read a full case study on the Celtic installation here

Picture gallery: Celtic fans give the thumbs up to safer seating for standing fans

Celtic make history by installing rail seats

posted 16 Jun 2016, 10:53 by Jon Darch   [ updated 16 Jun 2016, 10:57 ]

Thursday, 16 June 2016 - Celtic become the first club in the UK to install rail seats to enhance spectator safety for standing fans, with the first of nearly 3,000 fitted at Celtic Park today.

Celtic make history by installing rail seats

Celict stadium manager Robin Buchanan stands behind the first two rail seats installed at Celtic Park ... approximately five years and 24 days after the roadshow made its first visit.

Great progress is worth waiting for!

More information here on the club website

PSV to install rail seats for safer standing

posted 4 Mar 2016, 01:56 by Jon Darch   [ updated 4 Mar 2016, 02:09 ]

Champions PSV Eindhoven are to become the first Dutch club to create a dedicated safe standing area in an all-seater stadium in Holland. We spoke exclusively to club head of safety Marc van de Laar.

PSV to install rail seats for safer standing

This summer the Dutch top-flight club will take out all 2,800 conventional seats in the lower tier of the East Stand of the Philips Stadion and replace them with the same number of ‘rail seats’.

PSV say that they are doing this both as a direct reward for their fans for the great support they have given the team in recent months and as a measure designed to enhance spectator safety.

"Our fans have definitely contributed to the fact that we have reached the Champions League last sixteen," says general manager Toon Gerbrands.

"The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic for every game and that has a stimulating effect on the players. Creating the safe standing area is a direct reward for the tremendous support we have received." 

The East Stand lower tier (pictured above and below) has been chosen as the location for the safe standing area, as this is where PSV’s most vocal fans gather. And, of course, they stand. Behind conventional low-backed seats. A fact that the club realises can lead to cuts and bruises if fans topple forward over the backs of such seats when wildly celebrating a goal.

"Rail seats will totally eliminate any risk of fans falling forward"

“The waist-high rail incorporated into rail seats will totally eliminate any risk of fans falling forward in this way,” says head of safety Marc van de Laar.

“We want to ensure that the fans who provide such vibrant support and are most likely to keep standing throughout matches are accommodated in a better, safer way.

The installation of rail seats will enable us to achieve that goal, while giving us the flexibility to revert quickly and easily to an all-seater configuration for Champions League matches and any other games or events at which standing is either not allowed or desired.”

While the space-saving design of rail seating provides sufficient extra room to enable an increase in capacity when used for standing, PSV will be leaving the East Stand lower tier capacity unchanged.

“We decided not to increase the capacity, but simply to replace the old low-backed seats with the new ones incorporating the waist-high rail, as one of our key motivations for this stadium upgrade is spectator safety, not extra revenue,” explains van de Laar.

The new seats are due to be installed this summer, with the safe standing area due to open at the start of next season.

Background note:

Top Dutch clubs have in the past not had standing areas in their stadia in order to comply with UEFA all-seater rules for matches in their competitions. However, they have not been barred from introducing standing areas, subject to approval from the Dutch FA and their local authority. Rail seating enables them to comply with UEFA regulations and satisfy Dutch FA and local authority requirements.

Pictures courtesy of PSV Eindhoven

Devolved sports ground safety for Wales?

posted 3 Jan 2016, 15:48 by Jon Darch   [ updated 3 Jan 2016, 15:59 ]

January 4, 2016. The Welsh Conservatives have added new impetus to their campaign for safe standing, calling for responsibility for sports ground safety to be devolved from Westminster to Cardiff in order to enable safe standing trials to be run in Wales.

Welsh Tories call for devolution of sports ground safety 

Party Leader, Andrew RT Davies (pictured), has long led the call for a safe standing pilot in Wales and in December 2014 commissioned a survey of supporters in the UK which found that some 96% back the introduction of such standing areas.

Mr Davies is now calling for the devolution of responsibility for sports ground safety to the Welsh Assembly. The plans would enable a safe standing pilot to be undertaken in Wales.

Mr Davies has previously met with the Sports Minister Tracey Crouch to discuss safe standing and will write to her to formally request the transfer of powers to the Welsh Assembly. 

The announcement comes in a new video released by the Welsh Conservatives today which can be seen here:

Writing for the Welsh Conservatives’ website - YourVoice - Mr Davies said the issue of standing was one of “fairness” and said that it was time for a pilot to sensibly assess the evidence around safe standing.

He said: “Safe standing is a question of fairness. How can it be safe to stand at a rugby match or a concert yet somehow inherently unsafe to stand at the football - often in the same stadiums? 

“That simple distinction has never made any sense outside of the context of social attitudes towards football supporters in the 1980s. We wouldn’t accept that kind of discrimination against any other social group or demographic, so why accept it when it’s levelled at football fans?"

Under Welsh Conservative proposals the Sports Ground Safety Authority would continue to monitor safety at grounds. However, the devolution of responsibility for regulation would enable a Welsh Conservative Government to lift the ban on standing areas and hold a pilot in Wales, where there is cross party backing for safe standing following a vote in 2014.


Confirmed: Celtic to pioneer rail seating

posted 15 Jun 2015, 03:17 by Jon Darch   [ updated 15 Jun 2015, 03:25 ]

Following a meeting on June 9, 2015, of Celtic’s ‘Safety Advisory Group’, it has been confirmed by the club that they will be going ahead with the installation of rail seats at Celtic Park.

Confirmed: Celtic to pioneer rail seating

This landmark announcement means that Celtic will be the UK pioneers of this form of spectator accommodation, already widely used elsewhere, in countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Hungary. The news comes 1,453 days after the roadshow’s first of three visits to ‘Paradise’ (pictured right) between May 2011 and January 2014 to help club officials explain the merits of rail seating to the authorities, media and fans.

The club’s interest in rail seating had, it appears, initially been sparked by supporters group the Celtic Trust, who in the spring of 2011 let it be known that they would be tabling a motion at the football club’s autumn AGM asking that it conduct a feasibility study into creating a safe standing area at Celtic Park. That, it seems, prompted the club to contact us and the rest, as they say, is now history.

In December 2011, the SPL met and resolved to permit clubs to run trials of safe standing, on the proviso that they gained consent from their local authority and police force. Many local authority safety officials and a good number of police officers duly had the chance to look at rail seats during a further visit by the roadshow to Scotland in February 2012, when we visited 7 grounds in 5 days.

The subsequent upheavals in Scottish football, in particular the troubles at Rangers and the restructuring of the league system, then caused something of a hiatus in proceedings.

All the time, however, Celtic were pressing on, submitting formal proposals to the council, having an ongoing dialogue with the police and, in January 2014, hosting the annual conference of the Football Safety Officers’ Association of Scotland, at which the roadshow was again present to help spread the word about rail seats.

Chief Executive Peter Lawwell said around that time: We feel there is a new vibrancy in football that has come from Europe and is now in the UK. It's an energy and youthfulness and the safest way of being able to manage that is through safe standing. These are new systems that… are extremely safe and we are very keen to explore that at Celtic Park.”

Following several further meetings of the club’s Safety Advisory Group and rigorous examination of the club’s proposals, the authorities have now given the go-ahead.

One of the first to comment on the news was a spokesperson for the Celtic Trust:

"We at the Celtic Trust are delighted that this proposal, which we originally put to Celtic over 4 years ago is now going to happen. The provision of both seated and standing areas to accommodate different tastes will make Celtic Park an even more attractive and exciting place than ever."

The club has previously announced that the area earmarked for the rail seating is a corner of the lower tier, embracing blocks 110-112. During the season ticket renewal process in spring 2014 and again in 2015 fans were asked to register their interest in safe standing. Now that this is to become reality those that did so will, no doubt, be at the top of the list for tickets in the remodelled area. With an anticipated lead time of a several months, it may now not be until next summer that the green rail seats get installed in these blocks, but the fans there will undoubtedly see it as worth the wait – after all, what’s a few more months after all the years of waiting?!

Well done, Celtic!

Grimsby Town FC in historic safe standing first

posted 5 Apr 2015, 06:25 by Jon Darch   [ updated 5 Apr 2015, 06:26 ]

April 4th, 2015. The date on which football fans in the UK watched an official game of football standing at rail seats for the first time ever. An historic event in the safe standing campaign that took place at Blundell Park, Grimsby.

Mariners in historic safe standing first

As Grimsby Town fought out a 2-2 draw with visitors Gateshead, a group of Mariners fans made history: standing on the safe standing roadshow set up pitchside at Blundell Park, they became the first football supporters ever to watch a game in the UK football pyramid standing behind sturdy rail seats.

The event was organised by Grimsby Town stadium manager Nick Dale, who wanted to let all key stakeholders, including fans and the media, see rail seats 'in the flesh', as the club looks into a potential installation of such seats in one block of the Pontoon Stand later this year.

The demonstration of safe standing attracted lots of interest from the club's supporters, as well as media attention from BBC Look North (East Yorkshire & Lincolnshire), who featured the event as their lead story on their evening news bulletin.

The club now plans to continue discussions with supporters and the relevant authorities before taking a final decision on potentially blazing a trail as the first UK club to install 'Bundesliga-style' rail seats for safe standing, perhaps as soon as summer 2015.

Bangor City set to make safe standing history

posted 5 Apr 2015, 04:47 by Jon Darch   [ updated 5 Apr 2015, 05:02 ]

Welsh Premier League club Bangor City are looking to make safe standing history by potentially becoming the first football club in the United Kingdom to install and use rail seats.

Bangor City set to make safe standing history

The North Wales club's ground, the Nanporth Stadium, known for sponsportship purposes as the Book People Stadium, offers 1,100 seats and several areas of flat standing accommodation. Capacity for domestic games is 3,000. However, due to UEFA's all-seater rule for their games, when the club plays in European competitions, which it has done ten times in the new millenium, this is reduced to just 1,100.

An increase in the number of seats would, therefore, clearly increase the capacity for such attractive games. On the flip side, many of the club's fans would like a dedicated standing area behind one of the goals and over recent years the Supporters' Association has been raising money to fund the construction of such an area. Now the club believes it has found the ideal solution to cover all the bases: rail seats. The plan, therefore, is to build a stand with perhaps 500 rail seats at the Menai Bridge End of the ground, which will serve as the 'People's Terrace' for all domestic games and increase seated capacity for European games by almost 50%.

That increased seated capacity would also be useful when the grounds hosts national team matches under UEFA or FIFA auspices, with Wales U21 UEFA qualifiers and a Welsh Women's FIFA World Cup qualifier having already been played at the ground in recent years.

To explain the proposal to interested parties the roadshow visited Bangor in March 2015. The event, hosted by club chairman Dilwyn Jones and Mike Ishmael of the Supporters' Association, was attended by the city's mayor, local politicians, fans and representatives of the media. A few weeks later, Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, also visited the ground to lend his support to the club's safe standing plans (pictured top centre with Mike Ishmael, left, and Ethan Ray, right).

Grimbsy Town FC set to be UK trailblazers

posted 26 Feb 2015, 09:15 by Jon Darch   [ updated 26 Feb 2015, 09:25 ]

February 2015. Grimsby Town Football Club have declared their intention to fit rail seats to create a safe standing area in a section of their Pontoon Stand behind the goal at Blundell Park.

Grimbsy Town set to be UK trailblazers

This trailblazing move is set to make the Mariners the very first club in the UK with rail seating in operation as a safe standing area.

The only other rail seat installations in the UK to date are a small block of 33 at Bristol City's Ashton Gate, which legislation prohibits the club from using in any form as spectator accommodation for football matches, and 3 being used as seats by club staff at Peterborough United.

Although Grimsby's Blundell Park had to go all-seater some years ago after the club had completed the maximum of 3 years at Championship level during which clubs are permitted to retain standing areas, as the Mariners are currently outside of the Football League the all-seater requirement does not apply at present.

The club is therefore at liberty to reinstate standing and to install rail seats similar to those shown below.

Should it gain promotion back to the Football League, however, the all-seater requirement would immediately kick back in. The hope therefore is that in that event the club will either be allowed to operate the rail seating section as a safe standing trial or to operate it as normal seated accommodation.

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