An Arsenal season ticket costs around ten times more than the £104 standing season ticket at Bayern Munich. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why it's time for football clubs to reintroduce standing areas

The introduction of "safe-standing" at Premiership football grounds would allow clubs to reduce ticket prices and prove that clubs are prepared to listen to their fans.

The Fullwell End at Roker Park was where I first learned to love football. The football wasn’t great – despite glimmers of brilliance from the likes of Marco Gabbiadini, Sunderland spent most of their time before they left for the Stadium of Light in 1997 battling for survival in one division or another. I started watching Sunderland in our first, and thankfully only, season in the old third division and on the last game at Roker Park they were relegated from the Premiership. The bitter wind blowing in from the seafront made Roker Park one of the coldest sporting arenas of them all.

But the Fullwell End and Roker Park had an atmosphere all of its own. Sunderland players and fans spoke with pride and opposing fans spoke with trepidation about the famous "Roker Roar". When Sunderland moved on from Roker Park with a 3-0 win over Everton, I saw tears in the eyes of very tough men. There are no terraces at the Stadium of Light, nor are there terraces at any other Premier League ground. The reaction to Lord Justice Taylor’s report following the Hillsborough disaster signalled the end of standing in Premiership footballing grounds, with the famous old terraces being replaced by all-seater stadia.

Something was lost when we left Roker Park, with its history going back to 1897. And something was lost when football turned its back on the terraces. The atmosphere at some Premiership grounds borders on the sterile (obviously not when Sunderland are playing), with the shift away from any standing areas being a big cause in the changing atmosphere at football matches. All seater grounds are more expensive – as Crystal Palace fans pointed out recently, the cost of a ticket for away fans at Chelsea represents nine hours work for somebody paid the minimum wage. Since standing areas can accommodate a higher density of supporters, clubs will also be able to decrease ticket prices for hard-pressed fans.

As football has become increasingly corporatised and distant from its working class roots, fans have been left feeling disengaged from their clubs and their sport, with attendances falling in recent years. The issue of standing at football grounds is an area in which fans have expressed their views overwhelmingly and the clubs should show that they’re prepared to listen. Polls have shown that up to 90 per cent of football supporters support a return to standing at football grounds. It’s fans who turn up in the rain, wind and snow to make football the force it is today and the fans’ voice on this (and on many other issues) should be listened to. Football is a social game that is deeply rooted in communities and standing allows families and groups of friends to enjoy matches together without advance planning or dealing with seating charts.

The argument for allowing so-called "safe-standing" at Premiership football grounds is overwhelming. Safe-standing isn’t the same as old style terraces, but allows stands to be easily converted from seating to standing areas and back again at little cost. German grounds have safe-standing areas and we should be learning from their example. We were told that a move to all-seater stadia would help us win the bid to host the World Cup, only for Germany, with its standing areas to trump our bid and win the right to host the 2006 tournament.

Safe-standing is one example where German clubs are much more in touch with their fans than English clubs. A standing season ticket at Bayern Munich, the best team in Europe, cost £104. An Arsenal season ticket costs around ten times that. Bayern’s President, Uli Hoeness, said, "we do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody."

Opponents of safe-standing often point towards the example of Hillsborough to argue that there should be no return to standing. And they’re right that we should do all that we can to make sure that there is never any repeat of that darkest day for British football. But even the Taylor Report suggested that Hillsborough was caused by poor policing, overcrowding and the disgraceful fences that were used to keep fans virtually caged. There’s no evidence that safe-standing is anything other than entirely safe.

It’s now 20 years since football grounds in the top division had to become all-seater. And, contrary to the predictions of football club chairmen and politicians at the time, many fans haven’t grown to love not standing at matches. Fans want to see a return to standing at football grounds and it’s clear that a return to standing wouldn’t pose any safety risks. Reintroducing standing areas would show that football clubs actually care about what fans think and there’s no reason for government to stand in the way of Premiership clubs who want to listen to their fans.

David Skelton is the director of Renewal, a new campaign group aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party to working class and ethnic minority voters. @djskelton

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The three avoidable mistakes that Theresa May has made in the Brexit negotiations

She ignored the official Leave campaign, and many Remainers, in pursuing Brexit in the way she has.

We shouldn’t have triggered Article 50 at all before agreeing an exit deal

When John Kerr, the British diplomat who drafted Article 50 wrote it, he believed it would only be used by “a dictatorial regime” that, having had its right to vote on EU decisions suspended “would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out”.

The process was designed to maximise the leverage of the remaining members of the bloc and disadvantage the departing state. At one stage, it was envisaged that any country not ratifying the Lisbon Treaty would be expelled under the process – Article 50 is not intended to get “the best Brexit deal” or anything like it.

Contrary to Theresa May’s expectation that she would be able to talk to individual member states, Article 50 is designed to ensure that agreement is reached “de vous, chez vous, mais sans vous” – “about you, in your own home, but without you”, as I wrote before the referendum result.

There is absolutely no reason for a departing nation to use Article 50 before agreement has largely been reached. A full member of the European Union obviously has more leverage than one that is two years away from falling out without a deal. There is no reason to trigger Article 50 until you’re good and ready, and the United Kingdom’s negotiating team is clearly very far from either being “good” or “ready”.

As Dominic Cummings, formerly of Vote Leave, said during the campaign: “No one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what the process was going to yield…that would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger.”

If we were going to trigger Article 50, we shouldn’t have triggered it when we did

As I wrote before Theresa May triggered Article 50 in March, 2017 is very probably the worst year you could pick to start leaving the European Union. Elections across member states meant the bloc was in a state of flux, and those elections were always going to eat into the time. 

May has got lucky in that the French elections didn’t result in a tricky “co-habitation” between a president of one party and a legislature dominated by another, as Emmanuel Macron won the presidency and a majority for his new party, République en Marche.

It also looks likely that Angela Merkel will clearly win the German elections, meaning that there won’t be a prolonged absence of the German government after the vote in September.

But if the British government was determined to put the gun in its own mouth and pull the trigger, it should have waited until after the German elections to do so.

The government should have made a unilateral offer on the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom right away

The rights of the three million people from the European Union in the United Kingdom were a political sweet spot for Britain. We don’t have the ability to enforce a cut-off date until we leave the European Union, it wouldn’t be right to uproot three million people who have made their lives here, there is no political will to do so – more than 80 per cent of the public and a majority of MPs of all parties want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens – and as a result there is no plausible leverage to be had by suggesting we wouldn’t protect their rights.

If May had, the day she became PM, made a unilateral guarantee and brought forward legislation guaranteeing these rights, it would have bought Britain considerable goodwill – as opposed to the exercise of fictional leverage.

Although Britain’s refusal to accept the EU’s proposal on mutually shared rights has worried many EU citizens, the reality is that, because British public opinion – and the mood among MPs – is so sharply in favour of their right to remain, no one buys that the government won’t do it. So it doesn’t buy any leverage – while an early guarantee in July of last year would have bought Britain credit.

But at least the government hasn’t behaved foolishly about money

Despite the pressure on wages caused by the fall in the value of the pound and the slowdown in growth, the United Kingdom is still a large and growing economy that is perfectly well-placed to buy the access it needs to the single market, provided that it doesn’t throw its toys out of the pram over paying for its pre-agreed liabilities, and continuing to pay for the parts of EU membership Britain wants to retain, such as cross-border policing activity and research.

So there’s that at least.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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