If you’re a football fan, you’ll know that safe standing at games is a hot topic, and has been for quite some time. If you speak to most football fans of the older generation, they’ll regale you with story after story of nostalgic away days stood on the terraces, watching their beloved team. The days of standing at games are sadly over – with stewards going as far as kicking fans out if they stand too often.
Standing at matches was banned after the Hillsborough tragedy. But the difference between the new system of standing and standing of old, is that safety has been factored in. If we take the newly implemented rail seating at Shrewsbury Town, for example, it’s easy to see how much more safety-orientated the new style of standing would be. The seating comprises of a metal seat that can be folded up flat against the row behind it, and above it, a rail at chest height. This is designed to stop fans falling into other rows during particularly exciting moments of a game.
Standing is illegal in Premier League and Championship stadiums (under the Football Spectators’ Act 1990 and following the Taylor Report), so all eyes will be on League One Shrewsbury Town next season. They will be the only club in England with this set-up, but could really strengthen the case for the roll-out to go national, if it proves successful.
The evidence suggests that actually, safe standing is safer than seating. Often, during celebrations, fans lose their balance and may fall down rows of seats. At least with a rail in place in front of them, this could be prevented. Not only does safety improve, but atmosphere is likely to get better. Many believe that since seating was introduced, fans have become more subdued and apathetic, ruining the atmosphere of big grounds like Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.
A petition to introduce safe standing, created by Ipswich Town fan Owen Riches, has garnered over 100,000 signatures – meaning that safe standing has to be debated by parliament. After speaking to Owen, he confirmed that he started the petition in response to the “hypocritical” legislation that allowed safe standing in Scotland but not in England and Wales.
He’s absolutely right. There seems to be no good reason for safe standing not to be implemented. Up until now, politicians have largely ignored the swelling support for reform. Recently, the Government rejected newly relegated West Brom’s application for a safe standing section, which only served as a catalyst for renewed demands from fans for change.
On the 8th of June, the Labour party announced they would be backing the implementation of safe standing. Whilst welcome, it is long overdue. Owen met with shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, and attended the announcement and press conference at QPR’s Loftus Road ground. Only since Labour’s involvement, has the Conservative party started listening to what fans have to say. Just a few months ago, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch dismissed pro-safe standing advocates as a “vocal minority” and claimed “clubs aren’t interested, either” – she couldn’t be more wrong!
The opinion of football fans is loud and clear. A survey by the football League last month shows that 94% of the 33,000 fans they asked, wanted safe standing implemented. 16 clubs have publicly pledged their support for it. Parliament will debate safe standing on the 25th of June, and they must take the opinions of fans into account.
It is, of course, a sensitive issue, with the tragedy of Hillsborough (which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters) shaping many of the arguments against repealing the law. However, standing wasn’t one of the biggest factors that caused the disaster – the Taylor Report determined overcrowding and stadium layout as being more detrimental. Not standing. Despite Hillsborough being constantly cited as a reason to prevent standing returning, 88% of Liverpool Fans, surveyed by a supporters’ group, were in favour of allowing safe standing. Even the Chief Executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, has joined Labour in asking the Government for reform.
MPs must look at the successful implementation across Europe, particularly in the German Bundesliga. Closer to home, in Scotland, Celtic have trialled a similar system, for 2600 fans, which has been a total success.
Those against implementing safe standing will suggest that it forces fans to stand, which is problematic for those who can’t (due to disability) or those who’d rather sit. This simply isn’t true. It is all about choice. Safe standing would only be introduced in sections, with seated areas being available – almost like at a gig, with the option of standing or sitting.
Others mention the potential for more hooliganism on the terraces,and a return to the “dark days” of the 1980s, when football violence “plagued” the English game. However, those people clearly don’t understand the mechanisms of football violence. With increased surveillance, banning orders and legal powers at the disposal of authorities, football fans are still more likely to fight away from stadiums, at pre-arranged locations. There is no reason that safe standing would bring such violence back. Especially given the excessive price of season tickets and attending a match – why risk wasting all that money by being banned?
Additionally, surely standing would make attending a match cheaper, especially for the working class fans who have been priced out? More fans could be accommodated and therefore, this would lower the price. Football would then, in theory, be more accessible for the average person who doesn’t have £80 to spare to watch a single game.
Let’s face it – fans will stand up anyway. I’m guilty of it myself. So why not allow them to do so safely? It’s a win-win scenario – those who want to stand should be able to do so safely, and those who wish to sit (and not be obstructed by those wanting to stand) should equally have their choice respected.