The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

BAD stew­ard­ing. Ir­re­spon­si­ble polic­ing. Poor or­gan­i­sa­tion. A pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude that foot­ball fans were pond life. All of these fac­tors con­trib­uted to the hor­rific deaths of 96 people at Hills­bor­ough.

But what re­ally did the dam­age was perime­ter fenc­ing. With­out it, no­body would have died that day. As the crush in­ten­si­fied, fans would have spilled onto the pitch, bruised, blood­ied, prob­a­bly bat­tered by po­lice trun­cheons – but alive.

That’s not to say the anti-stand­ing lobby should be swept aside. There are plenty of le­git­i­mate con­cerns. All-seater stands have re­duced the kind of anonymity that once al­lowed hooli­gan­ism to flour­ish. This in turn has made it eas­ier for those once too in­tim­i­dated to at­tend matches – racial mi­nori­ties, women, kids – to en­joy foot­ball.

We are still a long way off the in­clu­siv­ity in Amer­i­can sports, but the game has a face it can be proud of. That was not al­ways so.

But to blame stand­ing for the tragedy at Hills­bor­ough is like blam­ing McDon­alds for mak­ing you obese. It was just one of the myr­iad fac­tors. And the truth is, al­most all of those fac­tors have been erad­i­cated.The mur­der­ous fences have gone, never to re­turn. Stew­ards and po­lice are bet­ter trained, with Hills­bor­ough now a blue­print for what to avoid.

Hooli­gans re­main, but with de­creased num­bers and or­gan­i­sa­tion. And “Safe Stand­ing” rails, set to be tri­aled at Bris­tol City’s Ashton Gate, seg­re­gate fans to make a for­ward surge im­pos­si­ble. Emo­tive though the is­sue may be, es­pe­cially to those touched by the Hills­bor­ough dis­as­ter, the suc­cess­ful use of safe stand­ing ar­eas in the Bun­desliga has proved that there is noth­ing in­her­ently dan­ger­ous about stand­ing up at a foot­ball ground.

If stand­ing can be shown to re­duce ticket prices and raise gates – and can en­sure a ze­ro­tol­er­ance pol­icy on an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour – it is dif­fi­cult to op­pose.

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