Norwich City are at the forefront of the safe standing debate. To that end, Jon Punt went with the club to meet Sports Minister Tracey Crouch in Whitehall. He was impressed.
Norwich City Football Club has come a long way in a short space of time on the issue of safe standing.
Under previous regimes, namely that of David McNally, the position was quite clear; the matter wasn’t really up for debate and the status quo was perfectly palatable to those in charge.
Efforts were made by supporters’ group Barclay End Norwich to bring to the club’s attention the new, safer, technology of rail seating seen across the Bundesliga, with very little success.
Things have changed.
Club chairman Ed Balls, and the now departed Managing Director Steve Stone, have both spoken publically about their support for the safe standing campaign. Stone went even further, declaring that if and when legislation was to be changed or amended, that Norwich City would be among the first to introduce safe standing, ideally in the Barclay Stand. Pleasingly new Chief Operating Officer Ben Kensell has reaffirmed the club’s commitment in interviews with local media yesterday.
Those who take a keen interest in the campaign will have noted West Bromwich Albion’s request for safe standing to be trialled at the Hawthorns was swiftly rejected by the government. It flew in the face of supporter choice, and was out of kilter with the current groundswell of opinion on the issue.
In most polls conducted, between 80 and 90% of supporters are in favour of safe standing areas. While a large proportion wouldn’t necessarily choose to move to a standing area themselves, they see the need for fans to be able to choose.
The Baggies’ pleas may have fallen upon deaf ears at the time, yet it created a national discussion, with a subsequent petition comfortably raising the 100,000+ signatures it required for consideration of a parliamentary debate. And that’s where things get interesting.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch had to change her view. From declaring that there were no plans to change the government’s all seater stadium policy, she has now declared her ‘mind is open’ on the subject. Because of the petition and the fine work conducted by Jon Darch, a public advocate of rail seating, the government commissioned a review into standing at matches in the top two tiers of English football. This was announced in June of this year.
Since then news has been rather slow, yet behind the scenes the cogs continue to turn, not least from our own football club’s end.
Ed Balls, bemoaned by many fans for his Strictly moves or reality TV performances, has been working hard to put forward Norwich City’s views. With that in mind, Balls secured a meeting with the Sports Minister in Whitehall on 17 October 2018.
To the club’s credit, they also wanted supporters to attend to give their views and were able to secure three fan representatives to come along, which consisted of myself on behalf of Along Come Norwich/Barclay End Norwich, Robin Sainty from the Canaries Trust and our very own Ffion Thomas, groundhopper extraordinaire and Capital Canary.
From the club’s end Ed Balls, Tom Smith, Andy Batley (Stadium Safety Manager) and Joe Ferrari (Director of Communications) were in attendance. Local MPs Clive Lewis and Norman Lamb were also able to join us.
What surprised me was the Sports Minister herself. Those that know me are safe in the knowledge I am no fan of the Conservative party. Yet I found Crouch was committed to hearing the views of fans and was asking the right questions. She broadly understood the challenges clubs faced and is committed to exploring things further. She was much more knowledgeable about the subject than some newspaper headlines may have had you think.
Whether that changes things moving forward is still up in the air. It was however remarked that this is probably the only meeting with a club and its fans that the minister will take before this process is concluded.
We should be proud that Norwich City were that club and are at the forefront of the conversation.