Did you know that you`re a potential hooligan? Yes, you! The middle aged man with his teenage kids, the young woman with her boyfriend, the old couple who`ve been following their club for decades, the group of lads fresh from the pub on their way to the game. Every one of you, a potential hooligan. "What me?" I hear you say. "All I want to do is go along, take my seat and watch the game". Ah, but I`m not talking about you, I`m talking about those of us who wish to stand up; according to Richard Caborn, Minister for Sport you`re a potential risk to public order.
I don`t know about you but frankly I find this crude assumption more than a little insulting, particularly given that despite the introduction of all seater stadiums a sizeable minority of fans have continued to stand in front their seats. Yes, there have been isolated and rare incidents, ordinarily involving individuals who think it`s clever to launch their mobile or spare change onto the pitch, but anything remotely approaching trouble that used to blight our grounds? No.
Unfortunately, Caborn isn`t the only one pandering to crass and cheap stereotypes. I was recently interviewed on BBC 5 Live, and one of the studio guests was the respected Daily Telegraph journalist, Patrick Barclay. During the discussion I mentioned that we receive many emails from younger fans telling us "that they can`t behave like my dad used to". By that comment - and it was clear in the context of the conversation - I meant of course the standing shoulder to shoulder with their mates, vocally and passionately supporting their team. Mr Barclays` retort was "… the way their dads used to behave became untenable and we don`t really want to go back to the nadir of the mid eighties. They shouldn`t behave like their dads - they were lethal." Now imagine if he`d of said "all young Muslims have the potential to be terrorists". They`d be an outcry and rightly so. But us football fans? We`re fair game to be pigeon holed and clichéd in a way considered deeply inappropriate, if not illegal, for other groups in society.
I can just about put up with the constant refrain "but we get more woman at games because of the comfort of all seater stadiums" (imagine suggesting to a female solider or mechanic that she`s considered too fragile to stand for 90 minutes!) but this insidious suggestion that hooliganism will automatically return to our grounds if the regulations are changed enabling us choice is beyond a joke.
The question that they avoid answering is why will altering the regulation to officially permit the widespread standing in seated areas that has been happening for more than 10 years, lead to problems with public order?
There are no safety or public order problems at present with unregulated standing, so why would officially designating certain lower tier areas for standing and providing a choice for all fans, lead to disorder?
While some media outlets have been very supportive of us, the Daily Mirror told us that they would not consider featuring the results of the latest Football Fans Census on standing (92% of us believe there should be choice) because "...they don't feel the time is right to run the story right now after the tragedy in Italy..." I took that to mean that, simply, they too are confusing a legitimate issue in this country to one out of control in some parts of Europe and South America. Steve McClaren also weighed in to the Italian debate saying: 'They have got to learn a lot about the English game, how it has come on over the years,' McClaren told Five Live. 'The safety at most grounds has improved. It is all very, very well controlled and is a great environment in which to take families, and we have to encourage that.
Hard to disagree with that, but why should the vocal and passionate fans be, if you consider the stewarding they`re subjected to, made to feel so unwelcome? Could it be that not only to the Government think safe standing areas would herald the return of hooliganism but that your club doesn`t want you cluttering up the place either with your banners and flags and disturbing those well behaved, polite supporters who`ve just spent £150 in the club shop, £200 on tickets, £16 on four hotdogs, two cokes and two teas, and who wouldn`t dream of swearing or contemplating saying anything remotely offensive let alone raising their voice?
The Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP
Minister for Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
Go on, write now and ask him (a) why he thinks you`ve got the potential to risk public order if you stand (b) why can`t we have the same choice as the Germans and (c) why, in the short term the standing in front of seats can`t be properly managed - and send a copy of your letter to your club as well.
Finally, ponder this: just 9% of match going Premiership fans are under 24 with the average age of fans being 45. Now, I`m no mathematician but even I can see from these statistics that unless this trend is reversed and unless supporters who want to contribute to an atmosphere, enjoy their "match day experience" and not one orchestrated by their club are welcomed and not continually treated like criminals, then our grounds will empty naturally in the coming years and shirt sponsors will be Stannah Stair Lifts and Saga Holidays!
Thanks to the Aston Villa site for this article.