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Should Safe Standing be Introduced?

Elliot takes a look at a debate which has surrounded English football for some time, ‘Should safe standing be introduced’? The Football Supporters’ Federation has been campaigning to introduce ‘Safe standing’ areas in the top 2 divisions.

Dortmund's Südtribüne in action, 25,000 people safely stood in one stand.
Dortmund's Südtribüne in action, 25,000 people safely stood in one stand.
Lars Baron

In the wake of the Hillsbourgh disaster in 1989 Lord Taylor of Gosforth released a report which would change the English game for the following 20 years. After 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives he called for reforms to modernise the game. This report recommended that all major stadia should convert to an all-seater model, and that all ticketed spectators should have seats, as opposed to some or all being obliged to stand. This has been implemented with the majority of stadiums being all seated. Despite this, fans home and away continue to stand in all seated areas. we look the pros and cons surrounding standing.

One of the key points is atmosphere, when you go on your ‘away days’ and you all stand and sing as one unit it’s a special thing. Even though it’s an all seated stadium it is commonplace, particularly among away supporters, for large numbers to stand throughout the game. Another example is the ‘Kop’ at Liverpool. Regularly during games the Kop stands and produces a good atmosphere from it, we even see this with our very own ‘crazy corner’ generating all the noise at the Reebok. If ‘safe standing’ sections were to be introduced then the club would increase their stadium capacities, and therefore lower ticket prices to football matches. Since all seated stadiums were introduced fans feel like they’ve lost something, it’s a lot easier to sing and support your team while standing up.

Although there’s the ‘Green guide’ standing in Leagues one and two the model league to look at for this is the Bundesliga. They comfortably top the Premier League’s attendances while having safe standing zones. Notably Borussia Dortmund, the fans and atmosphere at the Signal Iduna Park is amazing and for league games the ‘westtribüne’ is an all standing stand. This is referred to as the ‘sea of yellow’ with amazing pictures coming from their matches. If the Germans can successfully do it why can’t we? I’ve had first-hand experience of German football and the old-fashioned terrace. Apart from Peterbourgh away last year I’d never experienced anything like this and on such a scale.

When I visited Cologne on my German exchange I was taken to watch 1. Fc Köln play a league match. They are the German equivalent of us, relegated from Die Bundesliga the same year as we went down and have been relatively disappointing in the 2. Liga so far. The only difference is the fans, on Saturday there were only 15,551 fans at the Reebok Stadium to watch Bolton play Reading. At 1.Fc Köln v Aalen in the 2. Liga there were 44,100 fans, nearly 3x as many as ours. I was stood behind the goal with the whole lower tier terraced and I’ve never experienced a better atmosphere. The football that I was watching was dire but the fans made the game; we had 2 men conducting the whole stand. Over 5,000 Germans simultaneously clapping, jumping and cheering it was a sight to behold, wouldn’t this spice up our championship games?

This debate has been circulating recently and former Whites legend Super John McGinlay has expressed his desire for this to be brought in. Unless the away fans are in great voice the atmosphere at the Reebok is generally poor. Apart from an occasional ‘we’re the one and only wanderers’ it’s pretty quiet. This is what John had to say in an interview with the Bolton news,

"The debate about reintroducing standing areas at football grounds has been in the news this week and personally I am in support of it. I think it could improve the atmosphere at games a lot.’’

"If we were to get standing back, I would suggest the bottom tiers behind both goals would be ideal. That’s where the vocal areas are for both home and away fans.’’

"It would be great for the atmosphere and it is also an opportunity to get more people in and maybe that would mean some cheaper tickets. Some people are against getting standing back but people do it anyway in all-seater stadia.

"I was at Blackburn the other Wednesday and the Wanderers fans were stood up for the whole game and that was in a seated area.’’

On the other hand we’ve all seen the images from Hillsbourgh and even the Burnden Disaster. We have to look at safety as a priority. If this were introduced it would be harder to keep tabs on security with one person not having a seat in his name, you could just blend in behind some other fans in a terrace. People argue about safety but we’ve moved on from the 80’s, there are no crumbling terraces with fans caged in by fences and you can’t cram as many into a terrace until it looks about full. The number of fans in each section of the ground is carefully controlled with strict ticketing procedures. We’ve all seen the success of the Bundesliga with their safe standing, the lower leagues can do it, so why can’t we?

It’s past my time but I always hear people talking about the atmosphere at our old stadium, Burnden Park. How they used to go when they were younger and stand behind the goal in the terraced end with their mates, why can’t we bring this back? Another thing which would disappear is that one man who wants to sit down when your team plays away. The norm is to stand but I’ve been there on numerous occasions when older supporters can’t handle it and want to sit down, with the current system they can’t, if we bring back safe standing and seating zones this problem won’t crop up again.

13 clubs across the Premier League and Football League have given their support to the idea, including Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, Watford and Derby County. If this goes ahead I’d love to see our name added to that list. This is a debate which isn’t going to go away with the Football Supporters' Federation campaigning to the government. The Liberal Democrats are supporting this motion; their spokesman Don Foster has said this.

"If fans want to stand, and clubs want to let them, we should at least explore safe ways of achieving it,"

Surely it would be safer for the away fans, and even certain sections of the home end to stand in ‘safe standing areas.’

Make a Stand The football supporters federation (via gooner775)

This is an interesting debate but what do you think, are you for or against bringing back standing? Please make your opinion known in the comments and vote in our poll.