English fans stand up for the right... to stand up

AFP | FEBRUARY 16, 2013, 06:20 AM IST

With a new £3-billion television deal and seven teams in Deloitte'slist of Europe's 20 richest clubs, business in the Premier League is booming.But not everyone is happy.

The English top flight may be the world's most popularfootball championship, ceaselessly driven into new territories by anunrelenting marketing machine, but some local fans long for a return to simplerpleasures. Top of their list is a desire to stand while they watch their teamsplay -- and a campaign spearheaded by the Football Supporters Federation (FSF)is calling for the right to do exactly that.

Irked by a blanket ban on standing at Premier League clubs,the campaigners hope to persuade the British government, football authoritiesand clubs to introduce standing sections on a trial basis at selected grounds.Any such scheme would involve the use of so-called "rail seats" -robust, fold-up seats with a high back featuring a metal rail that fans sittingin the row behind can hold if they wish to stand up.

The seats are widely used in Germany and campaigners believetheir introduction in England would create a safer environment for supporterswho wish to watch matches on their feet. Fans who attempt to stand during gamescurrently run the risk of being ejected by stadium stewards.

The Safe Standing Campaign has received support from anumber of clubs and organisations, including Premier League side Aston Villa,current Championship leaders Cardiff City and the Scottish Premier League.

However, the campaign faces fierce opposition from thefamilies of the Liverpool fans killed in the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, whichsaw 96 supporters crushed to death on an over-crowded terrace during an FA Cupsemi-final. "There are 96 reasons why it should not be allowed," saysMargaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose son,James, died aged 18 at the ground in Sheffield, northern England.

"Standing should never, ever come back. I do not thinkthere is anything safe about standing. I feel insulted that while people aretrying to fight for justice for Hillsborough, that this campaign is growingnow."

Campaigners, however, believe the football authorities'concerns have more to do with out-dated fears about fan behaviour than with thepracticalities of safe standing being introduced. But the shadow ofHillsborough means the pro-standing brigade may have to remain seated for alittle while longer.

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