Monday the 17th of May

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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Safe standing backed by Catholic chaplain

The Westminster Diocesan Chaplain for Sport has joined calls for the law on all-seater football stadiums to be relaxed.

Grounds in England’s top two divisions have had to be all-seater ever since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which left 96 Liverpool fans dead following a crush at the start of their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

This policy has never been wholly welcomed by football fans, though, and calls to overturn the all-seater rule proved impossible to ignore this year after an online petition for a parliamentary debate on the matter attracted more than 110,000 backers.

The debate took place in June and sports minister Tracey Crouch has announced a review of the all-seater requirement.

That marked a change in tone from Ms Crouch, who previously had blocked West Bromwich Albion’s request to pilot a safe-standing section at The Hawthorns in March, while in April she called campaigners for a change in the law a “vocal minority”.

Crouch has since admitted the latter remark was a mistake – as numerous surveys have proven, most notably ones conducted recently by the English Football League, Premier League and Football Supporters’ Federation – and has said her “mind is open” to a change in the law.

Mgr Vladimir Felzmann has now added his voice to the long list of those calling on the Government to relax the law, pointing out that German football clubs have had large standing sections for years with no major issues.

“The Government’s response to the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, was never popular. Understandable, it seemed to be OTT,” said Mgr Felzmann, who is also CEO for the John Paul II Foundation for Sport.

“A typical reaction of the over-protective Nanny State,” he added. “Brussels did not pick up that idea. German football clubs, with their large standing sections, have had no problems.

“With proper policing of incoming fans to prevent overcrowding, the old fashioned stands should be safe – and as they celebrate a goal – give the fans a chance to stand without stewards telling them to sit down.”

Mgr Felzmann’s comments come as the Football Association became another of football’s main stakeholders to join the public debate.

An FA spokeswoman said it backed Crouch’s decision to conduct a review “and supports clubs and leagues in having the option to choose whether they wish to provide standing options for supporters should there be clear evidence that satisfies the authorities over safety and security”.

As well as German clubs having large standing sections for years, several clubs in Leagues One and Two have continued to provide standing options and Celtic have successfully trialled a safe-standing section over the last two seasons. Cardiff City has allowed fans to stand throughout games in certain parts of their ground, with police permission.

Picture: Fans take their places in safe standing areas of Celtic Park.