EDITORIAL: Let fans pay to sit on the grass

THERE is a good reason the Asian Football Confederation insists all tickets to its Asian Cup games should be for numbered individual seats.
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The confederation never wants to be involved in a repeat of past soccer disasters, where spectator stampedes in over-filled grounds have led to deaths and injuries.

It’s a rule deserving respect, but like any rule it really should contain scope for flexibility in special circumstances.

Like the Asian Cup sudden-death showdown being played at Newcastle next Tuesday night, for example.

Thanks to a quirk of circumstance, Australia’s Socceroos will play in Newcastle, instead of in Sydney as most had expected.

Had the Socceroos beaten South Korea last Saturday, they’d have been playing their semi-final in the capital in front of 83,500 seated fans.

But South Korea beat Australia 1-0, changing the script in an instant.

The Socceroos got the better of China in their match in Brisbane on Thursday night, meaning they will play in Newcastle on Tuesday.

That’s fantastic news for Newcastle, where excited fans had already revelled in the chance to watch champions Japan defeat popular underdogs Palestine 4-0 at Hunter Stadium.

The fly in the ointment is the Newcastle venue’s limited seating capacity.

Sticking to the strict confederation rules, only about 23,000 tickets can be sold. But that ignores the wide-open grassy spaces at each end of the ground where another 10,000 or so people can be – and have been in the past – accommodated with ease.

It seems a terrible shame, and an unnecessarily wasted opportunity, not to take advantage of this space. Demand is sure to be massive for such a crucial game involving the Socceroos.

Indeed, the match is generally considered to be the most important ever played at the stadium and, apart from spectators at the ground, it will be watched by millions of television viewers across the world.

Anybody looking at the ground and its layout will quickly see that Hunter Stadium isn’t a likely venue for a crowd stampede. The ground has held almost 33,000 at times in the past, with a third or so of the spectators happy to watch from the grass and with no particular problems arising.

Respected Australian international football veteran Ray Baartz has summed the issue up very neatly, noting the confederation rule is entirely sensible for most major venues in many parts of the world. But, as he points out, Newcastle’s stadium and ground is quite different, making a waiver of the rule not only reasonable, but appropriate.

Waiving the rule would be a deeply appreciated goodwill gesture to soccer-lovers in Newcastle and the Hunter.