Villa offer to trial standing areas

Underhill
Standing areas like this one at Barnet's Underhill stadium have been eradicated from top-flight English football. Photo: PA

Aston Villa have become the first Premier League club to publicly back a new campaign for trials of standing areas for fans in top-flight and Championship matches.

The campaign has been launched by the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) and with Birmingham MP Roger Godsiff. Aston Villa and Peterborough have both given their support to calls for the Government to allow "small-scale trials of safe standing areas" and have volunteered to host a trial.

Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner said: "We have had a number of good discussions and meetings with the FSF over the past 12 months and fully support their campaign to allow small-scale trials of safe standing areas at grounds.

"Whenever we have discussed the topic with our fans we've found almost unanimous support for such a trial, and the concept of giving fans the choice to decide to either sit or stand at a game.

"We believe Villa Park could be a potential venue for such a trial, and would like the opportunity to progress the plans further with the wider support of the football community in this country."

Godsiff has also submitted an early day motion to Parliament which "urges the Government to accept the case for introducing, on a trial basis, limited standing areas".

The trials would need a change in the Football Spectators Act 1989, brought in after the Hillsborough disaster.

Peter Daykin, Safe Standing Coordinator at the FSF, said: "For two decades since the Taylor Report, the overwhelming majority of football supporters have favoured a choice of standing and sitting at football, and fans continue to stand throughout all levels of the game today, even in the Premier League and Championship where it is against ground regulations and facilities are designed for sitting.

"Standing was outlawed on grounds of safety, and yet successive governments have agreed that standing is safe - it's hard not to when it is done perfectly safely every week at rugby grounds, lower league football grounds and in top football leagues all around the world."

Last year the Hillsborough Family Support Group opposed any move to bring back standing areas.

HFSG spokesman Margaret Aspinall said then: "The Hillsborough Family Support Group are totally against any form of standing whatsoever. We are absolutely against it and always will be. Our football clubs should remain all-seater stadiums.

"People always say they have standing areas in Germany, but we don't play any part over what happens in that country - we just believe there's no such thing as safe standing in this country. We will not be encouraging the government to change the law."

The Premier League and successive governments have until now also opposed any change.

The Premier League will not support the campaign and argued that all-seater grounds had had significant benefits.

A PL spokesman said: "Since the introduction of all-seater stadia the supporter experience has improved significantly and we have seen more diverse crowds attending Premier League matches including more women and children.

"The police, safety officers and licensing authorities remain clear on this issue and have consistently informed us that crowd management has improved as a result of all-seater stadia being in place in the top two divisions in this country.

"We will not be encouraging the Government to change the law."