The Safe Standing Roadshow was recently invited to attend the annual conference of the Football Safety Officers' Association. Formed in 1992, the FSOA is the trade association for the men and women in charge of safety and stewarding at football grounds up and down the country.
The FSOA had decided to debate the issue of persistent / safe standing for the major part of the morning session of their one-day conference. The roadshow was set up outside to give many of the safety officers present their first look at rail seats.
The general mood of the debate was disappointingly negative. However, there were nevertheless some positive points to take from it, not least the fact that nobody present maintained that standing was unsafe. Nor did anyone think that rail seats were unsafe. Without exception, the safety officers' concerns about standing related to issues of crowd management, not safety.
After a coffee break, FSOA President Jim Chalmers, who has himself said "there is no reason why safe standing cannot exist in our top two divisions if there is a will to allow this at government level", presented the results of some research he had undertaken in the weeks prior to the conference. It is worth noting here that the vast majority of respondents to this research had not had the pleasure of a visit from the Safe Standing Roadshow and so many may never have seen rail seats at the time that they replied to the survey.
Almost a third of safety officers support safe standing
While it was disappointing that 64% of respondents were opposed to Don Foster's safe standing proposal, almost a third of the safety officers (32%) supported it. Also noteworthy was that of all safety officers responding only 2 felt that their club's fans did not want safe standing.
Some of the individual comments from safety officers also showed that many see no issue with standing, while others recognise that the appetite for standing is not going to go away and feel that clubs should therefore have the choice to offer standing facilities:
"As a lower League Club we have seating and standing. We have no issues with using standing terraces. If we close the visitors standing terrace and only let them use the seated stand we get problems with fans standing throughout the game."
"Having been involved with my Club for over 20 years operating both home and away standing terraces has never presented any specific safety issues. Since we have standing terraces there is no problem with fans standing in the seated stands."
"I do not believe persistent standing is unsafe provided gangways and aisles are kept clear."
"We have lost the battle with persistent standing over the seasons with huge numbers now standing."
"It is right that Clubs should have the choice"