Sunderland councillor calls for Government rethink on safe standing at top level football

Councillor Stephen O'Brien outside the Stadium of Light.
Councillor Stephen O'Brien outside the Stadium of Light.

A Sunderland councillor has teamed up with an MP to urge the Government to have a rethink on its opposition to safe standing in the top two tiers of English football.

Grindon and Thorney Close Liberal Democrat councillor Stephen O’Brien, who is also deputy leader of the city’s party, has joined with MP Layla Moran to call on the Government to allow safe standing rail seating which allows fans to stand on a terrace, but with each row separated by a rail to prevent crowd surges.

The system operates in football stadiums in Europe and Scotland, as well as other sports in England.

The campaign for a safe standing area at the Stadium of Light has received the backing of supporters, but wasn’t able to be progressed as such areas are not permitted at Championship and Premier League stadiums.

Now Liberal Democrat Ms Moran has raised the issue in Parliament after concerns were raised that if Sunderland AFC and other clubs in League One introduced a safe standing area, they wouldn’t be able to be used if the clubs secured promotion to the Championship - as the Government have banned safe standing areas from the top two tiers of English football.

Ms Moran lodged a parliamentary question to ask if a mechanism was in place to prevent this, but in response the Government reiterated its opposition to safe standing.

Coun O’Brien, himself an SAFC ticket holder, said: “It is obviously disappointing that Sunderland could technically now introduce a safe standing area in League One - but the problem is what happens if - as I hope will occur - we get promoted back to the Championship next season and the safe standing area has to be closed due to the Government ban.

“Clubs that have listened to fans and introduced safe standing should not be penalised if they get promoted.

“These proposals should not be side stepped.

“It is past time that there was recognition, particularly from Government, that the goalposts should be moved on safe standing.”

Ms Moran added: “Safe standing offers supporters more choice, a better atmosphere and cheaper tickets.

“Crucially, it is not a return to the terraces of the 1980s, is already allowed in many other sports and Liberal Democrats believe top level football should not be the exception.

“All eyes will be on ministers when Parliament debates this issue next month.”

Safe-standing in the Premier League and Championship will be debated in Parliament on June 25 following a petition signed by over 110,000 people.

The petition can be seen at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/207040.