Does ‘safe standing’ represent a return to the Dark Ages for English football?
The perceived taboo around standing in football is an understandable one. The legacy of Hillsborough and other global footballing disasters have left indelible scars on our game. Inadequate terraces and a general indifference towards crowd safety rendered many stadia unfit for purpose, and it would be naïve to suggest that such practices aren’t still evident in the world game today. But from the European perspective we have taken great strides in learning from the painful lessons of the past, and we must continue to do so.
But for key policy makers it is important to look beyond the emotional and to deal with the issues in a rational manner. A few will understandably struggle to buy into progressive new ‘safe standing’, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked.
The advent of all seater stadia heralded a new era for our game, one increasingly dominated by money and the sterility it brings. This isn’t to say the issues with the modern game are simplistic, but that stadium configuration is a significant issue. You only have to compare the English game to the German equivalent to see that the option to stand not only improves the atmosphere, but also enables fans from every walk of life to attend the game they love.
At present fans stand at Premier League games, it is an indisputable fact. The reasons for doing so are wide-ranging, but at the moment the situation is unsustainable. Not only is it currently un-safe to stand, it also consistently affects fans that want to sit. In the end how you watch a game should be a personal decision, and unfortunately at the moment that choice just isn’t offered.
So how does this new system of standing differ from the traditional?
Rather than the terraces of old, modern standing designs incorporate a system of rails between rows (preventing the potentially life-threatening crushes of the past). This is a design predominantly seen in Scandinavia and Germany, where seats are available as well for use during UEFA sanctioned competitions. Allocated positions also ensure that overcrowding isn’t an issue with the particular systems, with capacities easily managed by those operating the stadium.
The campaign for these particular designs is growing at a pace in the UK, and governing bodies would be mindful to heed these calls. It is easy to be lulled into complacency by record TV deals, but the Premier League must be mindful of the so-called ‘product’ they are selling. In order to maintain the current advantage over continental rivals it is important that issues like atmosphere are promptly addressed, and the German model provides both a lesson as well as an overdue wake up call.
How much progress have we seen on this issue?
Within the last couple of weeks Celtic have announced both the permission as well as intention to include rail seating at Parkhead. On the club’s website Celtic Chief Executive, Peter Lawwell said:
“Celtic has worked tirelessly on this issue and we are delighted that this permission has finally been granted.”
“Across football globally, the reality is that some supporters are choosing to stand at matches. This is something we must accept and manage and also understand the positive effect which these areas have on atmosphere at matches”
“Celtic’s primary objective will always be the safety and comfort of its supporters- this new system will allow fans to stand safely at matches. Rail seating has been in place in European football for some time and there has been considerable demand for some form of ‘safe standing’ within the UK and particularly from our supporters.”
Celtic are one of the game’s most reputable clubs, and it is particularly significant when a club of their stature takes such a progressive stance on an issue. But they are not alone, with a number of Premier League clubs signing up to trial the new technology; we are truly on the cusp of significant change to the modern British game.
The aversion to change will always be through sentiment, emotions that as previously mentioned are understandable but largely moot when making a logical progressive decision. And that is what safe-standing represents; progress for a game that genuinely needs it. Our arrogance is borne out of a perceived supremacy both on and off the pitch and if we don’t emulate our close neighbours we run the risk of being left behind.
So this is less a choice, more a natural step forward and one that carries very few of the risks that it’s critics assert.
Far from a return to the Dark Ages, safe standing is a logical progression.