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In 1974 Swedish group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with their song Waterloo and over the forthcoming years they became a phenomenon in pop music. Last week they were back in the studio recording new material. However, pop music legends they may be, but their introduction to football in the last year has not been considered a success.

Research had shown that the team going first in a penalty shoot out were at an advantage and so the ABBA system was brought in, used in a similar way to the tie breaker in tennis where Team A took the first penalty and subsequently the teams took two each.

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It won’t be used in the World Cup this summer in Russia and neither, after a one year experiment, will it be used in the League Cup next season. It was used at the Turf last season when we went out of the competition to Leeds. I don’t think for one minute it made a difference to the result but it certainly confused a lot of people inside the ground; after all we’ve been accustomed to the traditional ABAB non-singing system for over forty years.

There is one other change being made in the League Cup regarding penalty shoot outs. From next season they will come at the end of ninety minutes and not after extra time with clubs voting to scrap the extra thirty minutes of play when the scores are level. It won’t affect us next season with our entry delayed until the 3rd round, but the seedings for the first two rounds have been scrapped although the 1st round will still be on a north/south regional basis.

The worst piece of news from the Football League annual conference as far as I’m concerned is clubs no longer being required to print a match programme. It’s an option their clubs have been given and I think it will be a very sad day indeed when it happens. It’s been bad enough seeing Burnley publish no more than a fold out sheet for pre-season games and sometimes even League Cup ties, but this, I’m sure, will be news greeted with dismay by the many programme collectors.

Meanwhile, at the Premier League AGM, a winter break was agreed, the top clubs made sure they were going to get a bigger slice of the overseas broadcasting money and, to top it all off, Richard Scudamore decided to hang up his boots after twenty years as chief executive, admitting he’ll be able to spend more time watching Bristol City.

Some countries have winter breaks of three to four weeks, but when it is introduced in the Premier League it will, in effect, be one week only. It will spread over two weeks with five games still played on the first weekend and five on the following weekend.

It will come into being for the 2019/20 season and will be in February. When it happens, clubs will be permitted to take their players away for some warm weather training but will not be permitted to take part in lucrative overseas friendly games. To facilitate the break, the FA Cup 5th round will move to a midweek date and, like the subsequent rounds, will no longer have replays.

So that’s a bit of news from the Football League and the Premier League, but the big news over the past few days has centred around safe standing. There is absolutely no doubt that things are now progressing.

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Last Wednesday I was privileged to be able to attend a roundtable meeting in Parliament, organised by Shadow Sports Minister Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan. Make no mistake, all the comments we hear regularly, and all the posts on the message board on the subject, were replicated from supporters of many Premier League and Championship clubs who were present (41 different clubs I’m told), none more so than the regular problems found at away games when supporters opt to stand in front of people who are sometimes unable to stand.

Rosena’s predecessor, Millwall fan Clive Efford, chaired the meeting and they were, like everyone in the room, enthused at the passion and desire that came from supporter after supporter. It would be wrong to pick out the comments from representatives of individual clubs because all simply spoke very well. However, it really was of great interest to hear Billy Grant from the Brentford Beesotted website; this is the only club in the top two divisions of English football where standing is still permitted.

The message to come out of the meeting was no longer ‘can we do it?’ but very much one of ‘how do we do it? and there was a really strong feeling that things were moving forward.

The Government are set to review the ruling over safe standing areas on 25th June, this following a recent petition that was supported by over 110,000 fans. And last Friday, two days after the meeting, the Labour Party came out in support, not only that but for the decisions to be taken by individual clubs, working with fans and their local safety authorities.

Rosena said: “It’s time for change. Labour’s decision is the result of in-depth consultation with football clubs, fans and safety authorities. It’s time to back safe standing. We want to give the power to fans, clubs and local safety authorities, to allow for a small area inside a stadium to be designated safe standing. Clubs fans and local authorities know their stadium far better than anybody in Whitehall, the decision should rest with them.”

She added: “The current system isn’t working, people are standing in unsafe seated areas and accidents can happen. We would allow the installation of specialised rail seating where appropriate, or standing in current seated areas where it can be made safe to do so.”

Rail seating will, of course, be introduced to English league football next season at Shrewsbury (the photo above shows the start of the installation). Had they won promotion they’d have been playing games against West Brom, a club refused a pilot scheme recently by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch. There have been suggestions since that a different approach by West Brom might have brought a different result.

So ABBA, thank you for the music, and Richard Scudamore, we hope you enjoy watching your football at Ashton Gate.

But the biggest news of all is the dramatic moves in the last few days that have taken safe standing so much closer to becoming a reality. For the first time I’m beginning to believe this is something that is going to happen, and going to happen a lot sooner than some of us might think.

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