The world moves in mysterious ways. Oh, I know you’re expecting some diatribe against the Heil and its ilk, but no, not today. It is a condemnation of the government, however.
Tracey Crouch is the latest Minister for Sport to fail the test placed in front of her. She confirmed this government is not prepared to see the evidence and allow the reintroduction of safe standing areas at top-flight football stadia. The suggestion in the media is that they want “football to have a united voice”, whatever that is.
West Brom tried to get a safe standing area introduced but found their request rebuffed. As their COO said, “Perversely the scheme would have reduced the number who stand.”
The real perversity of the decision is highlighted next season if Shrewsbury Town joins the Championship. Every visiting fan will see their home support standing; the law requires that clubs who spend three consecutive years in the top two flights provide an all-seater stadia. For a club like the Shrews, does that mean it makes more financial sense to stay in the second tier for two seasons and get relegated, thus negating the need for capital expenditure on fixed seats?
Ivan backed it in his fateful summer of 2011 – the same year he wittered on about “Arsène is ultimately accountable to the fans—they ultimately make judgement. If you are seeing the relationship between the fans and the manager break down, that is unsustainable” – and the Premier League are currently consulting clubs about their views. Liverpool were the biggest opponents previously, for understandable reasons. Does that objection still remain?
Empirical and anecdotal evidence tells us that rail seating works. Germany, Celtic, even CSKA Moscow successfully implemented the scheme so objections need to be more substantial than the blithe dismissal it received from DCMS yesterday.
Once in a Lifetime
Was the decision is influenced by West Ham fans actions during the match against Burnley? The spurious logic probably goes along the lines ‘if they behave this badly in seats, what will the hoi-polloi be like with terraces’, or something like that. The government found the other 323 Premier League matches this season less newsworthy.
It wouldn’t be the first time those chirpy cockneys have set everyone back. After the EFL Cup tie, Arsène responded to a question about safe standing thus:
Personally I am in favour of the resurgence of standing opportunities behind the goals and that is not a very good advert to come back to standing opportunities for people in the stands, so I am surprised. Hopefully, West Ham will get rid of the problem very quickly.
Both the BSM and AST conducted surveys in recent years which found the same result: safe standing is popular among Arsenal supporters. In a wider context, it’s a concept which gets the backing of most supporters of top-flight clubs when questioned although as I mentioned earlier, we await the Premier League’s collective response.
Will that improve the atmosphere at the Emirates? I fail to see how. The terrace culture of forty years ago won’t return; this generation of fans will make their own. The heritage of yesteryear is lost; too many years and beers have passed. I dare say there might be some part of me which wants to revisit my youth and see how the experience is different but it won’t be Highbury’s North Bank, even if they share the name.
Same as it Ever Was
Nor will it be the same ‘close’ experience we suffered; you’ll get your own personal space in the new safe standing areas, which is how it should be. The biggest change will have to be from the authorities. London’s finest will need to erase the herding mentality and aggressive approach football crowd control was deemed to require. They never made the link that treating people like animals – worse in many cases – elicits an aggressive response and similar contempt. There was never enough interest in finding that common ground on both parts. Them and us; us and them.
It won’t stop empty seats either. Anyone looking to that as a sign the club’s pockets are being hurt will be dismayed by the headlines this morning which screamed Adidas is willing to cough up £40m per season for the kit and merchandising deal. Wenger’s job is still at Enos’ whim. And his whim remains undimmed, publicly at least.