Will safe standing come to Fratton Park?

Pupils, parents and teachers celebrate the new England manager Gareth Southgate attended Padnell Infant School. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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Campaigns for safe standing at football stadiums has grown apace - with MPs forced into debating the issue after a petition secured more than 110,000 signatories.  

Legislation means that Fratton Park cannot have standing-only sections.

Yet fellow League One club Shrewsbury Town has recently successfully crowdfunded for rail seating at its stadium.

Pompey cannot currently have standing at matches as rules do not allow current or former Premier League or Championship sides to have it.

Last month MPs gathered at Westminster Hall after an online petition secured a debate on the subject.

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan called Pompey’s situation a ‘prime example of the injustice’ of the government’s position on the issue.

An attempt by West Bromwich Albion to have rail seating was rejected by government as it would have been a breach of the Football Spectators Act 1989, sports minister Tracey Crouch told MPs last month.

But she confirmed government has commissioned an ‘internal analysis of evidence relating to the all-seater policy’ with work complete at the end of the year.

But lifetime Pompey supporter Pam Wilkins brands the current situation as ‘ludicrous’.

Southsea-based fan Pam, 69, started out watching football on the terraces - but is only free to stand during matches when Pompey play away.

‘The anomaly is that authorities designate it safe to stand in leagues one and two but not in the Championship or Premier League,’ she says.

‘If you’re in the lower divisions you’ve still got terracing.

‘But if you’re promoted you have to get rid of it - it seems ludicrous.’

Pam has long campaigned to have standing at Fratton Park - and hopes changes will be made soon.

Pam said: ‘I would hate it to come in at a time when I’m not capable to stand at a match any longer.’

She wants fans to have a choice - with standing and seated sections.

‘A lot of people support it but don’t want to stand,’ she adds.

‘They don’t want people standing in front of them - it would give people a choice.

‘I recognised there are people who don’t want to stand and people who physically can’t stand for various reasons - I think there should be a choice.’

Pam says authorities now admit safety isn’t an issue - it is instead one of control, knowing who is sitting in which seat.

But why stand at all?

‘I think you do get more passion - it’s space to sing and move about a bit.

‘Also, to be honest, in mid-winter it’s warmer rather than sitting down.

‘There’s more passion - you can sing and you can move a bit - nothing untoward.

‘To me football is an emotional game, watching standing up I think it helps with that emotion.’

The argument against is clear - the risk of injury.

But the sports minister herself said while current data needed ‘probing’, it showed there had been some injuries.

Ms Crouch said:’ ‘For example, data collected so far shows that, of the 1,550 injuries reported over the season at 19 premier league clubs, none related to persistent standing and 242 may have been caused by some standing—the equivalent of two injuries per 100,000 match attendances.

Rail seating introduced at some clubs has a barrier and seat on every row, with seats locked upright, the Football Supporters’ Federation says.

On its website, it points out that In Europe clip-on seats or foldable seats are also used to allow the stadium to have seats and standing.

And with bosses at Fratton Park currently carrying out a review of its masterplan for Pompey’s stadium in the future, chief executive Mark Catlin said there would be plans in place if standing is allowed in law.

Back in October around 82 per cent of 3,300 fans who responded to a Pompey survey said they backed safe standing ‘in principle’.

Speaking to The News, Mr Catlin said: ‘From the outset since my first involvement with the football club we have - and will continue to support - the concept of safe standing at football grounds.

‘I’ve always found it bizarre that different rules apply to different leagues. It’s either safe or it isn’t safe - we’ve always struggled to come to terms with that.

‘If it’s not safe it should apply to everyone in all leagues; if it’s safe then we think it should be rolled out all the leagues and give clubs that opportunity.

‘Every stadium is different - every stadium has its own different issues.

‘Whereas safe standing might be safe at some stadiums, it might clearly not be safe at others.’

Speaking to The News last month, Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey said he believed standing could be brought back within a year. But Mr Catlin warned Fratton Park would not necessarily be ready even if the law was changed within 12 months, as it is hoped.

He added: ‘We’re currently undergoing a master plan review of this stadium and options elsewhere, but should the ultimate decision be taken to stay at Fratton Park then obviously it’s in our thinking.

‘We’ve got contingencies should the rules and regulations change.’

Any changes would have to be worked out with the club’s safety manager, Portsmouth City Council and the safety advisory group.

‘Just because there’s a change in the national law in sport, there’s still hoops subsequently that need to be jumped through in regards to our own safety advisory group.

‘Obviously we will be working closely with them moving forward. Getting over the initial hurdle of legislation is the biggest bit. Once that’s over I think everything will be in place.’

Pompey owner Michael Eisner last month wrote to Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan urging him to take part in a debate in Westminster Hall, and said ‘we believe that existing legislation should be changed’ to ‘offer their supporters the choice to sit or stand at matches in safe, licensed stadia’.