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02nd Jan 2022

Football fans staggered by police chief’s ignorance towards safe standing

Daniel Brown

Mark Roberts raised a number of ‘concerns’ about safe standing

Football fans are confused by Cheshire’s Chief Constable’s recent interview about safe standing at stadiums, with the police chief claiming it is easier to ‘engage in hate chanting, take cocaine and migrate around the stadium’.

Liverpool’s away game at Chelsea on Sunday is the first time fans can watch from standing areas for nearly 30 years, as the Government launches its landmark trial of safe standing for the remainder of the domestic football season.

At every club, up and down the country, some supporters choose to stand to support their team. While this is not technically permitted at a host of clubs – mainly at the professional levels of the game – it still happens.

Therefore, the trial of safe standing is a huge step forward for football. If clubs are able to allow their fans to stand and support their team in a safe manner, then it is an initiative that should be applauded.

However, Cheshire’s Chief Constable Mark Roberts has raised a number of ‘concerns’ about safe standing, some of which are truly baffling.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “If crowds are stood up, it’s easier to throw missiles, engage in hate chanting, racism, sneak alcohol in, take cocaine, which is a growing issue in the problem.

“And also in many of the modern stadiums, the bowls, you can actually migrate all the way around the stadium. So the concern is that they get over-loaded and you then get crushing issues.

“And actually it becomes quite an exclusionary crowd because families may not want to go in there, different groups might not want to go in there.”

Understandably, some of the comments made have confused people – for good reason.

While it is undeniably easier to throw a missile stood up, rather than sat down, it is simply incorrect to say that it is ‘easier’ to engage in hate chanting and racist abuse if someone is simply stood up. Racism in football is a prominent issue, but it doesn’t occur just because people stand on their feet.

Additionally, the idea of ‘sneaking alcohol in’ surely occurs before fans get into the stadium, right? And the issue of cocaine at football matches is definitely something else that needs addressing before – once again – supporters get into a ground.

In terms of the statement that fans can ‘migrate’ in many of the modern stadiums, let’s look at West Ham for example.

At the London Stadium, away fans are housed in both the upper and lower tiers in the South West part of the stadium, in the Sire Trevor Brooking Stand. Due to the fact the Hammers’ ground is, essentially, a bowl, barriers are put in place to segregate home and away supporters.

Although it is feasible that two sets of fans could come into contact with each other, this would only occur if one set of supporters broke through the barrier(s). This, therefore, begs the question: How can fans realistically migrate in one area?

Roberts’ interview has been met with anger, with many football supporters and journalists voicing their opinion on the matter.

Colin Millar – journalist for the Mirror – took to social media to respond to the video, stating: “Cheshire Police’s Chief Constable Mark Roberts is just repeating the same prejudiced, classist stance of Thatcher and the 1980s: football fans are animals and cannot behave. These views should not be allowed to go unchallenged and be published uncritically. No lessons learnt.”

Another Twitter user wrote: “Bit rich of any UK police force to label any people in such a way. This is an utterly absurd interview but I do love the bit about standing standing football increasing cocaine use – will we see fans snorting it off each others shoulders?”

A second responded: “What planet is this man on? Fans regularly stand in seated areas anyway and I don’t see ‘families’ running away terrified . Better to have designated standing areas designed for standing as that is the safer option – it is not going to lead to disorder. Give it a chance”.

Another Twitter user reacted to the video, writing: “Really not sure how standing/sitting makes any of the factors mentioned worse. Yes I’m sure there are health and safety issues that are at a greater risk (which have obviously been factored in) but im sure the factors mentioned are freely done sat down”.

A fourth added: “This needs a fact check warning on it. Some really wild claims in there.”

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