A debate that could go on forever. Should safe standing be brought into the top divisions in the UK?
Safe standing refers to models of modern standing accommodation in stadia such as those permitted in Germany, Sweden and Austria.
The most appropriate model is the ‘rail seat’ model. Rail seats allow entire stands or sections of a stand to be easily converted from standing to seating and back again without a lot of effort or cost. A safety barrier and flip-down seats on every other row allow for two rows of supporters standing between barriers when locked in an upright position. This allows supporters to be given a designated standing plot. As there is only two rows of fans per barrier there is no danger of a crush or progressive crowd collapse, and facilitates the inclusion of up to 80% more supporters than a seating area of similar size.
Although UEFA and FIFA require all-seater stadiums for international competitions, it is not mandatory for domestic matches allowing German teams to have large standing areas in their stadiums.
In 2014 Bristol City FC installed a small demonstration block of rail seats and went on to announce plans to install two areas of rail seats during redevelopment of the stadium that summer. These would only be used during Bristol Rugby matches as the regulations at the time prohibited their use for football matches.
In July 2016, Celtic unveiled their new 2,600 capacity rail seating area within Celtic Park, making them the first British club to do so. A ‘safe standing’ certificate was issued 13 months earlier, after years of negotiations with supporters, football authorities and Glasgow City Council.
Following the unveiling in Celtic Park a lot of Premier League clubs have shown an active interest in safe standing and a lot of fans are acknowledging that it is time to have the debate and are coming around to the idea that safe standing is arguably safer than standing in seated areas.
Hillsborough has to be mentioned. It is the first thing that comes to mind for many football fans, not only Liverpool fans, and does have to be addressed. Safe standing does not mean a return to the vast terraces where crushes were once commonplace, injuries were taken for granted and a sense of danger was never too far away. A safety barrier would eradicate the threat of overcrowding and prevent those old terrace-tumbles.
Safe standing also encourages diversity among fans attending football matches. Since all-seated stadiums became a requirement, more families attended matches than they did in the 1970s and 80s when hooliganism was a major problem. An increase in capacity would decrease ticket prices, allowing more teenagers to attend matches with friends – something I think clubs should be doing their best to encourage as they are the future of the club.
In November 2016, 20 Premier League clubs came together to begin talks on the possibility of introducing safe standing sections at grounds. There was an emphasis on safety being of paramount importance, with ticket prices and other benefits coming as a bonus.
The discussions were said to represent the first steps towards safe standing, however it would require changing the government legislation to introduce it in England. The law was changed follow Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
Hillsborough families and fans’ groups were included in the discussions and the Hillsborough Support Group secretary Sue Roberts said it would be “a step backwards” to bring back standing.
The Premier League Director of Communications said that there had been a “softening” on the topic of standing, following Celtic’s rail seats. He also mentioned that a lot of fans are interested in the introduction of safe standing and it is important to listen to the fans.
The fans really are at the centre of this. If fans let their club know that this is what they want, the club can look into it. Standing sections could really lift the atmosphere at grounds and there really is nothing better than seeing a crowd on their feet, jumping around and cheering their team on.
In the United States, the San Jose Earthquakes were the first team in a ‘soccer-specific’ stadium to have a safe standing section which opened in March 2015. Orlando City SC have recently completed construction of their new stadium which has a large safe standing section, while Minnesota United FC are in the process of constructing theirs. Rail seats are also installed in the Parramatta Stadium in Australia as they took inspiration from European teams.
There is definitely an appetite to follow the Bundesliga, given that one of the Football Supporters Federation’s large-scale surveys showed that 92% of fans in England and Wales wanted a choice between sitting and standing at games.
Will we stand?
Personally, I would love to see it happen. I understand both sides of the arguments, but the reason I want a safe standing section in the Kop is because the vast majority of us want to stand. We do it anyway so why can’t we do it in a way that is safe? Tickets would probably be more affordable as well, encouraging younger fans to attend and bring in the next generation of fans.
What do you think? Let me know your views in the comment section below or tweet me.