Why English Football Needs Safe Standing
It’s not an easy subject to discuss and for some it might not even feel like an important one. But last week Premier League clubs finally met to discuss the possibility of introducing safe standing sections into English football stadiums. With further talks planned for the future, West Ham co-chairman David Gold said the meeting represented the “first steps towards safe standing.” The news was celebrated by the vast amount of match-going fans up and down the country. But what is safe standing and why does English football need it?
First, some history. Since terraces were outlawed in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster back in 1989, all top flight and Championship stadiums in England have legally had to be all-seater. The Hillsborough tragedy was a watershed moment for modern English football, and while the Taylor Report (a document that examined the cause of the disaster) brought an end to the dangers and violence of football in the 80s, many fans also feel it symbolised a change in the physical and emotional connection to football that was evoked by the terraces.
As such, while all stadiums officially adopt a ‘no standing’ policy, it’s generally accepted among most of them that there are sections where home supporters will have a blind eye turned so they can stand for the duration of the game, trying to recreate some of that terrace atmosphere. Not only that, away sections are almost universally unofficially accepted to be exempt from the ‘no standing’ legislation.
What is Safe Standing?
But before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is safe standing? Safe standing is section of a stadium which implements ‘rail seating’ as opposed to the traditional plastic seats you’ll see in grounds around the country. The ‘rail seat’ system enables seats to be ‘removed’ while still giving fans a barrier in front and behind. The result is a space where fans can stand with plenty of space to move without being at risk of crushing.
The rail seat also provides seating for games where standing isn’t permitted by using a simple lock and key system to bring down the seats – all UEFA games, for example, have to be all-seater. Put simply, the ‘rail seat’ offers a similar freedom to terraces while also taking away the dangers of overcrowding brought about lack of allocated ticketing and fencing.
Why Do We Need Safe Standing?
It’s been argued by many the lack of terrace has encouraged passive consumption at football grounds, with fans simply turning up to ‘watch’ rather than ‘engage’ with the sport. The differences between this new breed of supporter (led by the globalisation and commodification of the Premier League in particular) and the often community-led fanatical supporter can often cause issues among fan bases where some fans stand, obstructing others’ views.
Safe standing sections would solve many of these issues. While it won’t magically solve every problem the modern football fan faces, it would solve the tension between different support bases caused by standing; it would also go some way to addressing the apparent lack of atmospheres seen in almost every ground in the country; and finally it’s far safer than the current unofficial standing sections which often cause cuts, grazes and sometimes more serious injuries thanks to contact with the seating in front.
The move would also benefit the clubs directly too. Safe standing would bring with it the possibility of increased capacity, which in turn bring in extra revenue; and as mentioned above it would bring a better atmosphere, which means a better product and in turn more revenue.
Most importantly, various countries in Europe have had a similar debate to the one the Premier League is having now and have decided to go ahead with safe standing. Not only that, it’s generally accepted to have been successful in Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and most notably Germany where we’ve had the personal pleasure of experiencing the now famed ‘Yellow Wall’ at Borussia Dortmund.
Why Wouldn’t Safe Standing Be Implemented?
Naturally any debate about the introduction of safe standing must be superseded by mentioning the emotive topic of the Hillsborough tragedy. Following the news of talks last week, Hillsborough Support Group secretary Sue Roberts said it would be a “backwards step” to bring back standing, adding, “we have a tendency to forget things in history. I think it’s one step in the wrong direction, that will lead to another and another. I would hate to be still around to say I told you so.”
One other point which should be made clear is safe standing sections will not be enforced throughout the whole of stadiums. In fact, most fans would probably accept that the option of safe standing would only be taken by 10-15% of a fan base. That means if you don’t want to stand yourself, you won’t have to. In fact, whether you understand why fans would want to stand during a game of football is almost irrelevant.
How Likely is Safe Standing in the Premier League?
The talks between the Premier League clubs are an extremely big step. And while worries around reintroducing standing at stadiums are believed to vary from club to club – Liverpool and Everton, for example, are understandably more wary – discussion can only be a positive sign.
The talks are also helped by the implementation of a safe standing section this season at Celtic Park in Scotland. The 3,000 rail seat section is generally seen as an overwhelming success and has given clubs firm evidence and a reference for potential implementation south of the border.
It seems like the introducing of safe standing in English football is only a matter of time, with over two-thirds of the Football League’s 72 clubs having given their official backing to the project. Nobody can really be sure when it’ll happen but the relevant are starting to listen and debate. Like most emotive subjects, that can only be a good thing.
What do you think? Are you for or against Safe Standing? Let us know your club and how you feel below or on Social Media @AverageJoesBlog.