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26th February 2014

Should we allow a return to standing in English football stadia?

YES- Thomas Turner I’m going to start this with a little game of Andrew Georgeson bingo. Get the full house, and the Mancunion Sport  will pay for you to have a pint with the man himself. Here are the words: ‘Hillsborough’, ‘crush’, ‘unsafe’, ‘hooligan’ and ‘German football hispters’. Each will – as they have been […]

YES- Thomas Turner

I’m going to start this with a little game of Andrew Georgeson bingo. Get the full house, and the Mancunion Sport  will pay for you to have a pint with the man himself. Here are the words: ‘Hillsborough’, ‘crush’, ‘unsafe’, ‘hooligan’ and ‘German football hispters’. Each will – as they have been relentlessly – be used to argue against the proposal for safe standing in UK stadia. And crucially, not a single one of them provides a decisive point.

Let me start with Hillsborough; a watershed moment for English football, and an atrocity of the type which we should never allow to occur in this country again. 96 people lost their lives – but did any of them die directly as a result of being able to stand at a football match? Hindsight says not.

The paddock in the Leppings Lane end was overcrowded due to the incompetence of the police. The crush was caused, ultimately, by a steel fence at the front of the paddock, and a lack of crush barriers to separate supporters. The number of fatalities was largely a result of the negligent manner in which clubs for years had treated safety standards and procedures – indeed there had been incidents in the Leppings Lane end in the years before the disaster which had indicated the danger.

Yet none of these factors are integral to standing at football matches – which leads me on to the prospect of ‘safe-standing’, based on the German ‘rail seating’ model. Just as with current seated stands, there is no requirement for large fences to be erected at the front. Each single row has a crush barrier in front of it. Seats (and therefore seat numbers) are still provided, meaning that clubs can prevent capacity being exceeded by monitoring the number of tickets sold. In short, as the large German stadia prove, there need not be anything inherently unsafe about standing.

In spite of this, many still associate the potential return of standing with a similar return to the ‘bad old days’, where outbreaks of violence amongst the crowds became commonplace. The advocates of this argument seem to be clutching at straws.

Huge progress has been made in recent decades with regards to the problem of football hooliganism, and the proof of this is no more evident than in the family friendly environment which typifies most modern day stadia.

Are we really suggesting that by allowing people to stand (which many still do, unsafely, in seated areas), we will flick a switch which transports us back to the heyday of the 1970s, where mobs of fans running amok along the terraces are a perpetual distraction from the ongoings on the pitch? This is nothing more than scaremongering.

But why, you may ask, do we want a return to standing at football matches anyway? There are two reasons which I can think of.

First of all, the change to all seated stadia has undoubtedly coincided with a drop in the atmosphere within stadiums. Anybody who has ever been to a football match will tell you that the atmosphere is greater in areas where people predominantly stand. I think the link between atmosphere and on-pitch performance is too often overstated, but to some, the ability to stand and sing at a football match is a valuable part of English football culture, which for nearly  twenty years now has been prohibited.

This coincides with the fact that if people can safely stand, and do stand in seated areas currently, we are also hindering the enjoyment of those who actively choose to sit. Some away fixtures in particular must be torrid experiences for those physically prevented from standing for long periods. If we can safely harness the preferences of both the sitters and the standers, why aren’t we?

Secondly, a switch to safe standing areas may also enable us to cure another ill of modern football – that of high ticket prices. Due to increased capacity, prices for standing tickets will undoubtedly be lower, enabling clubs to again attract the young and less wealthy supporters they have lost in recent years.

While the Taylor report specified that seated tickets ought not to be more expensive after the switch to all seated stadia, what we have seen is the direct opposite. The Bundesliga is renowned for its affordable tickets, so call me a ‘hispter’ if you wish – if it means cheaper tickets, you can call me what you like.

The aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster changed football in many ways – and many were for the better. But along with the behemoth that is the Premier League, it has also to an extent allowed football to be taken away from those who were for so long the life-blood of the game. Safe-standing would be a valuable embodiment of a return to the ‘people’s game’.

So to the powers that be, please, stand and deliver.

NO– Andrew Georgeson

‘Safe’ Standing in football in the top two tiers of English football should, quite simply, never be allowed.

I am stunned that it is even being considered in a country which had its footballing tradition changed from a stadium disaster. Hillsborough and Valley Parade should be enough evidence for this, but let me dismantle any other nonsensical ideas all the Against Modern Football and German Football hipsters have.

My overwhelming problem is how police would control a standing section. Despite the argument that every stadium will have allocated standing sections defined by tickets, Hillsborough was supposed to only have an allocated number of people inside. The fact is, police couldn’t control what was happening at Hillsborough. The Taylor report concluded that ‘the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control.’ The introduction of standing sections could lead to people sneaking in, the overcrowding occurring, then who knows what could happen.

The other contentious issue is the German Football Hipster conundrum. Borussia Dortmund has an amazing atmosphere with their 25,000 strong walls of Yellow and Black flags. But this won’t transfer to England for several reasons. Firstly, the standing section in England will become a section for the die-hards, the ones who give themselves a name like the ‘ultras’ or the ‘unit’, the guys who are at Weatherspoons ahead of opening time every Saturday, have 3 team-based tattoos and watch Green Street religiously. These stands will harbour hostility, not in a Fenebarche way, but in an aggressive pissed-up bloke from Leeds way which kills the atmosphere. One has to remember that the hostile atmosphere in Borussia Dortmund’s stadium nearly got all away fans banned from the match against Shalke due to police fears over atmosphere, so it’s not as rosy as everyone makes it out to be. You could never take your 10-year-old to the section as if your team scores and the crowd celebrate by pushing/shoving/crushing each other. The removal of standing sections from many grounds has clearly reduced football hooliganism. That is a fact. Some teams still harbour tinges of hooliganism, just look at Millwall last year at Wembley in the FA Cup final. Are we really going to let these people stand?

Unlike most of the Against Modern Football crew who have probably never been to a match outside of the Premier League, let’s turn our attention to lower league football. I followed my village team, Dunston UTS, from their 500 capacity all standing stadium in the North-East, all over the country as far as Norwich for a match in all standing stadiums, to the FA Vase final in Wembley Stadium. At Wembley Stadium, despite nearly 85,000 empty red seats, there was an incredible atmosphere because everyone was enjoying themselves; everyone was living up to the occasion, and actually enjoying football instead of the politics surrounding it.

Atmospheres in some stadiums are poor because of inflated ticket prices, manic owners, over-paid footballers, you name it. That’s fine, be disgruntled about that, but protesting for cheaper ticket prices won’t ever cost anyone their lives. If people actually stepped back and enjoyed the match instead of becoming pundits or getting so pissed up beforehand that they don’t know what day it is, the atmosphere would be fine.

I honestly can’t see how it could be cheaper either. Borussia Dortmund’s season ticket cost 190 Euros for their giant terraced stand. But at the same time, the owner of the club refused a beer increase from 3.70 to 3.80 saying ‘’that extra 10 cents doesn’t make the difference, why should we increase it? It doesn’t satisfy our people.” The ‘50 plus 1’ rule also ensures no foreign owner can take majority control so the club remains in German hands. The differences don’t translate to England, so the idea that tickets will be cheaper is based on nothing. If we want to return to tradition, I suggest a return to gentleman wearing bowler hats, suits with ribbons on and carrying clackers. Return to the days when the FA Cup coverage wasn’t one of the trials of Hercules to get through, and instead was just a nice occasion where we interviewed fans beforehand wearing half and half scarves.

Sadly tragedy will strike again, but let Bristol City trial it – a team with an average attendance of 11,500 this season – not even the largest in League 1 and who will not return to the Championship anytime soon. Let Aston Villa lobby for the campaign to try and win back their heritage as one of the classic English grounds after losing all their reputation in the league and having their FA Cup semi-final rights stripped off them.

It is nothing more than the FA trying to make up for the real problems they can’t do anything about. Football has an absolutely shocking past. If we don’t learn from our history, we are bound to repeat it.

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