Could safe standing come to the Stadium of Light?

St Annes Ward Lib Dem campaigner Stephen OBrien
St Annes Ward Lib Dem campaigner Stephen OBrien
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Sunderland's Lib Dems are calling for the introduction of standing at the Stadium of Light.

The party, which says bringing back standing areas at Premier League grounds would improve the atmosphere and offer fans lower ticket prices, wants to see a change in the law to allow safe standing to be introduced in stadia that currently offer only seated tickets.

Its plans would allow clubs to work with supporters’ groups to create standing areas where they can offer cheaper standing season tickets. A trial period would see European ‘rail style’ standing sections in grounds, along with proper stewarding and ticketing to prevent overcrowding.

Sunderland AFC is one of a number of clubs that support trials of safe standing areas to see whether it can work safely. Others supporting the campaign include Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Hull City, Swansea, Watford, and Wolves.

Stephen O’Brien, Liberal Democrat campaigner for St Anne’s ward in Sunderland, is a season ticket holder at the Stadium of Light. He said: “The Liberal Democrats in Sunderland and nationally believe football clubs should be allowed to introduce safe standing areas - where fans want them to do so - to offer supporters more choice, a better atmosphere and cheaper tickets.

“Crucially, we are not calling for a return of the terraces of the 1980s. Modern safe standing areas using ‘rail seating’ operate very successfully in top tier football across Europe, and safe standing is allowed in many other sports. There’s no reason that the top level of football should be an exception.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron MP added:“When clubs and fans are in favour of standing and it can be done safely, then the Government shouldn’t get in the way. That is why Liberal Democrats want to change the law to let clubs introduce safe standing. It is an idea whose time has come.”

The Football Supporters Federation’s Safe Standing Campaign say that it makes sense to bring back standing for top flight matches when it was already allowed in lower league clubs.

Regulations under the Football Spectators Act 1989 require Premier League and Championship football grounds to offer seated tickets only. However, lower league grounds, European football grounds and other sports in the UK currently allow safe standing arrangements.

The issue was last raised in Parliament on December 15, when Conservative Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch appeared to rule out safe standing, telling MPs the Government believed that “all-seater stadiums are the best means to ensure the safety and security of fans at football in England and Wales.”