An advisory group has recommended to Liverpool City Council that they cut the allocation for Manchester United fans for the Premier League clash against Liverpool in October. The Ground Safety Advisory Group (GSAG) made the recommendations after studying the behaviour of Manchester United supporters at Anfield in April.
Although “persistent standing” was referred to in the document the main issue seems to be the blocking of gangways, not the persistent standing itself. GSAG reported: “Spectators from other away clubs attending the ground also persistently stand, however they do not spread out in to the gangways to the same extent that the Manchester United spectators do.”
The group had compared the Manchester United fixture to “a similar high-profile game where persistent standing also occurred” and said the Manchester United supporters’ actions “had overwhelmed the reasonable operations of the stewards through the management plan.”
This was an “escalation” of the supporters’ actions compared to previous games GSAG said, and “it is not clear what more the club can reasonably do through stewarding measures to ensure spectators do not encroach in to gangways.”
GSAG advises the council in relation to its duties under regulations relating to sports grounds and other legislation. It is composed of representatives from the council and the emergency services as well as both of the city’s football clubs.
The report recommends cutting the capacity for the away supporters for this fixture from 3,015 to 1,965 but a decision won’t be made until the council’s licensing committee meets on August 8th.
There is already a certain amount of unrest from Manchester United supporters who seem to have read a different story. It’s not unusual for fans of the two clubs to recall two different versions of events when discussing a fixture just played, but a number of United fans seem to have already started making their own version of events up for this match.
Claims from United supporters that LFC have cut the away allocation for their visit to Anfield next because of persistent standing are inaccurate. The decision isn’t Liverpool FC’s to make (whatever allocation the club wants to give to opposing fans they will always be limited to the maximum permitted by the council), the decision hasn’t yet been made and the issue is to do with blocked gangways, not persistent standing.
Liverpool supporters don’t want to see cuts to the away allocation for any fixture and that would surely apply to supporters of any club. Away fans are part and parcel of what makes the game of football what it is – regardless of whether those away fans are despised, respected or otherwise. And any big game where supporters stayed wedged in their seats for 90 minutes would almost certainly be a disappointment, but what is already a disappointment (and applies to many clubs) is that there is often a genuine hostility between club stewards and supporters, particularly away supporters.
More communication is needed about exactly what the safety concerns are and also about exactly what the clubs and local authorities’ responsibilities are where standing, persistent standing and the blocking of gangways is concerned. Time and again we see the word ‘Respect’ on display in and around the grounds and even on the players’ shirts, yet there seems to be a growing lack of mutual respect between supporters and those tasked with their safety. As always there are supporters who seem to want this conflict, those who shout “what about their fans?” instead of sorting out their own wrongdoing, but most supporters just want to go to a game to shout, sing and – hopefully – celebrate victory.
If the only reasonable course of action that can be seen by those responsible for safety is to reduce allocation for away supporters then there has already been a serious failing somewhere along the line and that needs to be addressed before the hostility builds into something we thought had left our football grounds a long time ago.