Richard Scudamore chair of the Premier League has issued a diktat to the effect that at least one block of away supporters must be in a lower tier section approaching the pitch (or in the case of the Tax Payers Stadium, within a few hundred yards of the pitch).
This announcement was an opportunity for him to talk about what clubs should be doing to stop the curse of flares being brought into grounds, but he failed to mention that problem.
The new regulation doesn’t affect Arsenal of course, where all away fans are placed in the lower tier, but Sunderland is certainly one that has upper tier only. When the Stadium of Light first opened we were placed behind the goal on the lower tier, but this has been changed.
Richard Scudamore said, “Pitch-side is the easiest way of describing it but clearly [in] some ground configurations there might be some gap between where the seats actually are, and there might be something else in between that and the pitch.” In the Tax Payers Stadium it is a whacking great running track.
“It’s about atmosphere. One of the unique things about our game, particularly in England, is the amount of away fans and the noise they create. When an away goal is scored, you want that atmosphere and interaction between the two sets of fans.” Tottenham’s crumbling ground with the wonderful postcode London N17 OAP has the away support placed upstairs – I’ve no idea what the plans are for the rebuilt OAP ground.
Meanwhile the Premier League have agreed to consider the return of standing areas.
At the Emirates the whole of the lower north stand is a de facto standing area as is the away section and certainly if you try to sit anywhere much in either of these zones you won’t get to see anything, so in many ways we are just waiting for the law to catch up with reality. Something it is often slow to do.
All-seater grounds were made compulsory in 1994 following the Hillsborough enquiry. But one of the key points regularly missed in the hysteria over standing or not standing was that the Hillsborough enquiry did not blame the problem on standing. It laid the blame on the people controlling the ground. Indeed given that standing happens in most grounds lower tiers behind the goals, it is only the way in which people are allocated spaces that has changed.
Speaking on this topic Scudamore said, “We’re not immune to the fact that this is a topic and therefore it is in discussion with our clubs. They are all looking at the issue and at some point it will come around our table and we will see if there’s a point at which we might open up discussions with government to see what their view is on it.
“It’s very much individual clubs sensing for themselves where they are with it and we may or may not facilitate that discussion in the weeks and months to come.”
The only problem with allowing the law to catch up with reality is that this requires a vote in the House of Commons, and the government is currently rather more concerned discussing or not discussing leaving the European Union in Parliament with its kindred alleged trade deals.
The reason that no one takes up the issue that there is persistent standing at the moment is that the law simply says the grounds have to be all-seater. It doesn’t actually say that people in the stadium have to sit. So all that is needed is that a slightly different design of standing is required. There can be seats there that simple are not used. Just like now in fact.
However there is the Sports Grounds Safety Authority that undertakes to ensure compliance with its ground regulations. But as we see at every game in every ground in the PL, the away support stand, and the home support behind the goals stand so I am not really sure if that august body actually does very much.
So we could either have a law change, or the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport could simply tell SGSA to change its regulations, or they could do nothing and just let the current situation continue. Safe standing de facto in fact.