Stand and deliver
The announcement that all clubs in the top two tiers of English football can apply to operate licensed standing areas next season represents a key milestone against all-seating legislation says Dr Mark Turner, a Senior Research Fellow at Solent University
Yesterday - 4 July 2022, the announcement that all clubs in the top two tiers of English football can apply to operate licensed standing areas next season represents an important milestone for the 30-year movement against all-seating legislation says Dr Mark Turner, a Senior Research Fellow at Solent University.
Dr Turner - who completed his PhD on the social and cultural politics that came to define the ‘safe standing’ social movement - suggests that this moment is evidence of the long-term power and durability of football supporters to collectively and mobilise change in the modern game.
Speaking following today’s announcement, Dr Turner argues that this is a landmark victory for fan networks within the UK-based Football Supporters Association (FSA) and Football Supporters Europe (FSE) who have worked together and tirelessly to make social change on standing visible to key people within the decision-making structures of football.
“Over the past 10-years, this transnational movement, through strategic diplomacy and relationship building with DCMS and Sports Ground Safety Authority, has successfully persuaded the UK government to adopt an evidence-based approach to the safe management of fans persistently standing in seated areas,” says Dr Turner.
The timing of this announcement, however, is also significant. It comes in the wake of a new ‘moral panic’ that has characterised top-level football since the return of fans to grounds following the Covid-19 pandemic. Levels of anti-social behaviour, pitch invasions and the use of pyrotechnics have increased anxieties amongst some media commentators, politicians, and police officials around a return to ‘the dark days of football hooliganism’ that blighted the game in the late 1970s and 1980s.
These new licensed safe standing areas demand that clubs enhance the use of CCTV to monitor more closely fan behaviour, and for Dr Turner, this announcement also signals the start of a new regulatory framework; one which, in effect, seeks to discipline the behaviour of match-going spectators.
“While allowing clubs to apply for permanent safe standing licences represents an important victory for the movement; one which seemed impossible only 15 years ago, important questions remain as to the extent to which such licenses regulate the code of conduct of supporters differently than those in non-licenced standing areas.
“And while supporter safety should always be the most important priority in football, the normalisation and surveillance mechanisms of licensed safe standing areas continues to raise important moral and legal questions around the historical views on football fans as somehow ‘deviant’.
“In the light of these developments, the next phase of the safe standing movement, must be to radically reclaim the social and community value of standing as a leisure ritual. Only by reclaiming this ritual and right from the ‘safety-embedded’ and ‘security-focused’ regulatory framework in which standing is now situated, can the right of supporters to freely stand be fully enshrined.”
Dr Mark Turner is a Senior Research Fellow within the Southampton School of Sport and a member of the Faculty of Sport, Health and Social Science’s Research Advisory Group.
Mark is one of the leading international scholars examining the management policies of fans in football stadiums in England and Wales over the last 30 years. His PhD, awarded without corrections, is the most comprehensive study undertaken into the fan networks and practices of the Safe Standing movement in English football. He is a member of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority's advisory body and has been consulted as part of a recent UK Government review into the current all-seating legislation. As such, he is well connected across the multidimensional fields of sports activism, governance and professional sports industry. This research has recently been published in leading journals with high impact factor. Mark is currently writing a monograph, which documents a 30yr social history of football fan activism in England and is preparing a UEFA research grant programme bid to examine the wider European focus and impact of Safe Standing.