Recently, the state of modern-day English football has become somewhat of a divisive issue. With a particular focus on the English Premier League, many would cite reasons such as a marked decrease in race-related abuse at football grounds and the advent of a more family-friendly match day experience as evidence of a more successful footballing era. This perspective especially rings true when compared with previous darker times, namely the 1970s and 80s, which were dominated by violent and often unchecked hooliganism.
Today, when parents decide whether to take their children to the football, they don’t have to factor in the potential danger of a stadium riot between rival sets of fans. That said, despite the unwavering loyalty displayed by many supporters of 21st century football, our national sport is not without its critics. In our current times of relative financial hardship, eye-watering ticket prices for the top clubs, frenzied money-grabbing and a new ‘corporate’ atmosphere emerging as result of said money free-for-all have all contributed to an average stadium atmosphere deprived of vocal passion. My solution would be to give clubs the option of converting one of their stands into a ‘safe standing’ terrace in order to encourage fans to sing and get behind their team.
You could question how standing up is going to make people more likely to sing and chant. It’s about inclination. In my experience, I’ve always felt more inclined to join in with singing when I’ve been standing up. Even though most tickets remind us fans that ‘persistent standing is not allowed’, most noise at games is generated by the away fans who tend to remain standing after the teams have been clapped on to the pitch. If you’ve got 2000 Spurs fans standing up at the Emirates as play gets underway, even a jobsworth steward with the steeliest gonads in London isn’t going to be able to force them all to sit down. Of course, home fans do sing, but, if you look closely, a lot of the time they’ll stand up to properly get their vocal chords chiming.
Most noise at games is generated by the away fans who tend to remain standing
On a recent trip to Stamford Bridge where I watched a miserable display against Basel, the section of the Chelsea crowd producing the most noise were stood up en masse behind the goal in the Matthew Harding Lower. It occurred to me as I sat snoozing due to a distinct whiff of prawn sandwich that those willing to produce some noise flocked together in numbers to avoid being singled out and told to ‘siddaan’ (sit down). Similarly, the self-titled Holmsedale Fanatics of Crystal Palace remain standing throughout, endlessly chanting for their team no matter the score. Watch any televised Palace game and you will always hear the commentator mention the raucous support the South London side enjoy at home.
Therefore, instead of having a situation where some fans stand defiantly in front of their seats while others who want to sit are left with lower back-ache, the reintroduction of an all-standing terrace would provide the perfect opportunity for separating the ‘standers’ from the ‘sitters’, depending on your preference. If people wish to sit and watch a game then that is perfectly within their rights, but those who like to stand should be given equal priority.
Those who like to stand should be given equal priority
One country that has championed this scheme is Germany. German football is fantastic for many reasons. Fan-owned clubs, beer in your seat, competitive and exciting football and shockingly cheap tickets all mean the Bundesliga deserves a hearty pat on the back. However, it is the presence of safe standing in stadia that makes German footy really stand out. Watch any highlights show on ITV4 and you’ll always see one section of the crowd brimming with colourful flags and banners that belt out their support throughout the game.
Safe standing would also benefit those less willing to continue parting with £40+ a game by instigating a potential reduction in ticket prices. Ground capacity would increase as seats removed for standing terracing would vacate more space for people to huddle together. For example, Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park stadium increases its capacity by 15k to 80,000 with a safe standing terrace.
Apart from this penguin effect helping to keep people warm during those wintry late kick-offs, more fans entering the ground means clubs would have even more reason to lower prices. This would also be much fairer on the basis that you wouldn’t be paying for the luxury of a nice, snug plastic seat. Just don’t expect to see prices like Dortmund’s €15.30 in the England any time soon, old habits die hard and it is the Premier League after all.
Moreover, it’s important to note the emphasis on ‘safe’ standing. Memories of infamous incidents such as the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 and the mass disorder of the 1985 Kenilworth Road riot between hooligans from Luton Town and Millwall run deep, and may leave many sceptical of safety being guaranteed in a standing terrace.
Policing has come a long way since the 80s and it is a testament to its overall success that violent occurrences, particularly within grounds, are virtually unheard of. I’m confident that British police would be fully capable of maintaining order within grounds that choose to include a standing terrace, as hefty deterrents do away with most troublemakers and ticketing policies are much stricter nowadays so as to prevent overcrowding. If the police did express deep concerns about a particular fixture such as a derby, however, the option could always be given for clubs to construct flexible standing terraces that can convert to being all-seater, making policing for the blood and thunder games much easier.
Ticketing policies are much stricter nowadays so as to prevent overcrowding
Whether you think that the reintroduction of safe standing would be an anachronistically painful reminder of past events or a chance to boot stale atmospheres into row Z, I for one would love to see the government seriously consider its proposal. The days of Margaret Thatcher feeling compelled to establish a ‘War Cabinet’ to tackle football hooliganism have been well and truly consigned to history, and I believe it’s time that fans get what they often pay extortionate amounts for: an exciting match day experience that caters for all.