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Safe standing in Premier League: 'My opinion has completely changed'
For most of the past 33 years, Margaret Aspinall has been opposed to standing at football matches.
On 15 April 1989 her 18-year-old son and Liverpool fan James went through the turnstiles and on to the terraces at the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough.
He and 96 others were killed by a crush caused by police failures, a poorly designed, regulated and maintained venue, and delays in the emergency service response.
As Chelsea prepare to host Liverpool on Sunday in the first English top-flight game in front of standing fans in almost 30 years, Aspinall is now in favour of supporters standing.
“I never believed in any form of safe standing whatsoever, but my opinion has completely changed,” she told BBC Sport.
“Those who want to stand should be allowed to stand.
Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Championship side Cardiff have been approved to trial safe standing areas during the second half of this season.
Chelsea’s Premier League meeting with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge will be the first time fans will watch from standing areas since laws came into force in 1994 stipulating stadiums in the top two tiers of English football must be all-seater venues.
Safe standing sections, which will be in place for home and away fans at the trial venues, give fans the option to sit or stand, with a seat as well as a barrier running between rows.
Each fan in the section will have a designated space.
Football Supporters’ Association chief executive Kevin Miles believes the re-introduction of standing areas can be welcomed at every club.
“This a huge breakthrough victory for common sense, with a big step forward from the point of view safety, but also customer choice,” he said.
“Nobody’s asking everybody to stand. You’ll have the option of being able to sit with a clear view because people around you aren’t standing. You’ll be able to stand in the areas of your safely equipped for that purpose.
“It generates a great atmosphere and even the people sitting down will benefit from that extra injection of passion into the games.”
However, not everyone is a fan of how the new standing sections have been rolled out.
New ‘rails’ that demark safe standing sections were installed in six Premier League stadiums last summer but some fear they are being used without proper supervision already.
“My position from the outset has been: is it actually possible to introduce standing and ground and do it safely? Yes, of course,” said Cheshire Police Chief Constable Mark Roberts.
“What we asked was that certain measures come along with it to minimise the risks.”
Roberts’ concerns include people moving into the areas from other parts of the stadium and a lack of focused CCTV to monitor safe standing areas.
He is also worried by how standing areas could change the culture inside stadiums in the longer term.
“Where the tendency is to get people to stand will have a limiting factor on families,” said Roberts.
“Perhaps fewer females might want to stand in that area; certainly people with disabilities, older people. So you start to get a crowd that is predominantly maybe 16-55 male.
“There is a threat that you get these areas that are almost no-go areas, which obviously would lead to a deterioration in behaviour.
“If this all goes well and there are no issues I’ll be delighted. I just think there are risks that could have been avoided and mitigated had the advice of the police been listened to.”
Aspinall, Roberts and the rest of English football will be watching on Sunday to see whether their opinions, expectations, hopes and fears match the reality in the stands.