Football: Standing and cheaper tickets can work out, says Clarke
STANDING to watch games for £20 or less is a vision of heaven for many Stoke City supporters and their Premier League brethren.
But that day is not too far away if the country's leading supporter group has its way.
The Football Supporters' Federation, chaired by lifelong Stokie Malcolm Clarke, is petitioning the authorities on the issues of safe standing and a £20 maximum ticket price for away fans.
Aston Villa and Peterborough have already put themselves forward as trial clubs for safe standing in the Premier League and Championship respectively.
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Clubs in League One and Two are currently entitled to have old-style terracing.
Safe standing at Villa Park and London Road would involve the installation of railed seating which has long been a popular and successful feature of German football.
"Railed seating means the seats can be easily folded up," said Clarke, "so that an area can be used for either seating or standing.
"The presence of the rails means you could never have the kind of forward crush you used to see in somewhere like The Kop at Anfield.
"To me it is a win-win situation because it would mean you could get more fans into a ground, charge them less, but still make more revenue for the clubs if the demand is there.
"It would also put an end to the practice we see among many away fans, certainly Stoke fans when we are away, of everyone having to stand to see the game, whether they want to or not."
He sympathises with the opposition to any kind of standing from those still haunted by the Hillsborough disaster, but the recent emergence of the real story that fateful day in 1989 shows that the tragedy was caused by far more than the mere presence of terracing.
Clarke says it is difficult to put a time frame on when or if we shall ever see English football in the top two divisions adopting safe standing.
"I would hope that in the next two or three years those clubs that want safe standing will do it," he added. "In the end common sense will prevail, whenever that may be."
Stoke City, incidentally, have told the club's supporter council that it will monitor developments on the safe-standing issue before taking a position for or against.
Meanwhile, the £20 ceiling on ticket prices for away fans will be a little quicker to materialise, he hopes, as that merely requires a vote of approval among the Premier League clubs.
Stoke City, for their part, have suggested to the Premier League that all clubs should offer free travel to ease the financial burden on away fans.
Clarke applauds that gesture, but feels that has limited appeal because it would exclude those unable or preferring not to travel to games on official coaches.
He would much rather see a change in ticketing policy agreed by all 20 Premier League clubs.
At present, clubs can only charge away fans the same price as home fans for equivalent seating.
That gives clubs the opportunity to plonk visiting fans in more expensive areas of the ground so they can charge them higher prices.
And that often means being flung up into the Gods – out of sight, out of mind – at the likes of Newcastle United.
Stoke City, for their part, believe in the principle that visiting supporters should not pay more than the cheapest home ticket.
Other clubs, meanwhile, appear to charge just what they fancy, judging by the recent example of Manchester City supporters being asked to pay £62 to watch their club at Arsenal.
"What we would like to see," explained Clarke, "is clubs only being allowed to charge visiting supporters a maximum of £20-per-ticket, or the cost of the lowest-priced ticket for home fans if that is a lower figure than £20.
"Away supporters are the industry's best supporters and need to be looked after.
"With the massive amount of additional TV money coming into the Premier League from next summer, the FSF has calculated that every club could knock £35 off the price of every single ticket sold and be no worse off than before all that new money comes into the game."