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The safe standing debate: Erik urges fans to support it

Petition launched to have matter debated in Parliament

23 April 2018

Chief Executive Erik Samuelson has joined the ongoing debate over whether so-called safe standing areas should be permitted in Premier League and EFL football grounds.

If you missed Erik's article on this subject in Saturday's match day programme for the game against Oldham, it is reproduced in full below.

In 2015 I went to the FA Cup final between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Wembley. I was at the Villa end of the stadium in a seat that was, in cricketing terms, at about fourth slip to the goal. As a result I had a very good view of the Villa fans who were seated behind the goal. I say "seated", but that was the last thing they were. They stood throughout the game, and so did many in the upper tiers. I assume it was similar in the Arsenal end of the stadium. No-one tried to get the fans to sit down, despite this being the FA's prestige game at the home of English football; indeed, it wouldn't have been worth trying to enforce when everyone was doing it.

At AFC Wimbledon, after each home game we are required to submit a report to the EFL on what they call "persistent standing". This is because it is seen to be antisocial for those who don't want to or can't stand, and also because it isn't a safe thing to do as fans might be injured in the celebrations following a goal.

Here at the Cherry Red Records stadium, we can always suggest to those fans who persist in standing in seated areas that they can go to the Chemflow End of the stadium if they want to stand, but in the Championship and Premier League that option isn't available. If you've been following reports on the subject over the past few years, you will know that pressure has been mounting among fans, and now many clubs as well, to install rail seating (sometimes called "safe standing") as a means of creating standing areas which can be converted back to seats for UEFA games at which seating is mandatory.

Rail seating is widely used in Germany, and has been successfully trialled at Glasgow Celtic. Furthermore, an increasing number of official bodies are now saying that rail seating is safer than standing in a seated area – a welcome development, even if it is stating the obvious.

All of this makes the sports minister's recent decision to refuse West Bromwich Albion's request to introduce rail seating all the more perverse. A blistering article by the Guardian's Daniel Taylor demolishes the minister's claim that there is no demand for safe standing from top clubs by listing the clubs that are building it into their plans. Meanwhile, the EFL has made public correspondence with the minister which makes it clear that clubs do support the introduction of safe standing.

At this point I should, of course, state an interest on behalf of our club. We believe that fans want a terrace behind the goal and we would like to introduce one into the new stadium. The problem is that if we do this, we cannot transfer the outstanding grants on the current stadium to the new stadium because the Football Foundation do not allow that. (To be clear, this is not their fault: with the legislation as it stands, they simply cannot support such an application on our part.)

By the time we move into the new stadium, £603,000 of grants would be repayable (triggered by the sale of our current stadium). Also, we would not be able to apply for a further £202,000 of new grants that are still available to us, so the net cost to us of having a terrace at Plough Lane would be £805,000.

I should declare my own view, which is very biased, namely that I grew up watching football standing behind the goal, and until a couple of years ago I would make my way to the Chemflow End to watch the second half from behind the goal. So I do want a terrace in the new stadium – but not at the cost of an extra £805,000. I'd rather have seats installed in such a way that they can be converted to a terrace when the law changes, as it surely will.

To help take the debate forward, the Dons Trust recently tweeted a call to support a petition to have the issue debated in Parliament. I've already signed it, and the club and the trust urge fans who want a terrace to do so too. You can find the petition by clicking on this link .


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