Since the tragic Hillsborough incident in 1989, where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death after an area of terracing at the stadium became overcrowded, English clubs have had to adopt all-seater stadiums which are regularly inspected by health and safety officials. Whilst many prefer this new approach, a lot of people are calling for the classic standing terraces to make a return to English football.
Personally as a fan, I’d have loved all standing stadiums. Being just 17 years old, I often find myself feeling jealous when I hear about the football followings back in the 80’s, standing at grounds, cheap tickets and travel – a working class day out. However, I did see its drawbacks – at the end of the day 96 people lost their lives because of it. Around two years ago I discovered a campaign called Safe Standing, where they aim to persuade the government, football authorities and football clubs to accept the case, on a trial basis, limited sections of standing areas at selected grounds of Premier League and Championship football clubs. The standing terrace designs are all built to modern designs in compliance with all safety regulations, laws and guidelines to provide fans with a classic standing terrace.
The ‘Rail Seats’ are featured in Germany’s top flight and lead to a fantastic atmosphere, just look at the Dortmund fans as a perfect example. There is a rail between every two rows of standing – which eliminates the threat of crowd surges. Dortmund club officials were able to confirm that no supporter has suffered an injury since the rail seats were introduced in 1999. The ratio between seats and fans is around 1:1.7 so there is no threat of overcrowding, even on Dortmund’s famous yellow wall.
English football grounds aren’t what they used to be. In the 70’s and 80’s, English clubs were known for their vocal fan support, with many fans across Europe idolising the English fans. Nowadays, football grounds are a corporate day off, with fans having to pay up to £80 for a ticket, and with some grounds giving up to 30% worth of tickets to corporate partners.
To bring up Dortmund again, I simply believe they offer one of the best fan experiences in Europe, with up to 1,000 Brits making the trip overseas for every home match. Dortmund is a proper football club, where tickets, and beer, are cheap and the fans are always put first. This leads to one of the most electric, intimidating and loud atmospheres in the European game – and I certainly think English clubs can take note.
Safe Standing in my eyes would be a great addition to the fan experience in England, and I’m not alone in thinking that. There is nothing more frustrating than constantly being told to sit down at a passionate football match. From my personal experience, one instant that springs to my mind was when I was in the Matthew Harding lower tier at Stamford Bridge last season in the Europa League semi-final against FC Basel. Everyone in the part of the stadium were standing and singing from kick-off, with no complaints – until the stewards constantly told everyone to sit down. People behind me continued to stand, yet if I stood up, the steward was shouting in my face to sit down. The FC Basel fans were allowed – so why weren’t we?
Some fans may not like the idea of having Safe Standing at their home ground. I understand some parents like to take their children to games, and if there were hundreds of fully grown men standing in front of the child and blocking their view – it may make it a less enjoyable occasion for them. Older fans may find it difficult to stand for long periods of time, and some may just simply prefer sitting down. That is why I think that Premier League clubs should experiment with converting one lower tier section of their stadium using the Safe Standing campaign. Therefore, fans can have the choice whether to stand in that section, or sit somewhere else.
Take Stamford Bridge for example, the Matthew Harding lower seems to be the place where your vocal fans sit. I’m sure they’d all love to be standing without a balding steward screaming in their ear. Arsenal’s clock end, Liverpool’s kop – the list goes on. Safe Standing would offer a greater atmosphere, fans would feel happier, therefore more vocal and producing a classic English atmosphere. As well as that, Safe Standing would also see more fans being able to actually go to games, as it increases the capacity of grounds.
In my eyes, you can’t go wrong with Safe Standing. It is a brilliant, safe solution to the dangers that some of the old-school terraces could bring, and I’m sure that a lot of fans would back the campaign.
Jack Cox – @cfcjack96