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Safe to Stand?
Written by SouperJim on Friday, 20th Dec 2013 12:15

Football is entertainment. Everyone who goes to football has the right to enjoy the match in a safe environment. Nobody should lose their life at a football match and I have the deepest sympathy for the friends and loved ones of those who have died in tragic circumstances.

As you've probably guessed from the title, this blog is about the reintroduction of standing areas at football grounds in England. This is my opinion on what for many people is a sensitive issue.

My seat at Portman Road is in the Sir Bobby Robson lower. I say it's my seat, but in truth I rarely sit in it. Not because I don't go to games, but because the culture within that area of the ground is to stand up during games. Football for me is very much about the atmosphere, being alongside our most vociferous fans, getting behind the team and trying to make a difference to the fortunes of our side in one of the only ways available to us supporters.

Anyone who has been in the former North Stand during a game will be familiar with both this culture and the running battles with the poor stewards whose job it is to try and encourage people to sit in their seats for at least part of the game.

I'm motivated to write this blog because on the radio today, the BBC are running a story on the campaign to re-introduce standing areas to our football stadia, with supporters groups from 12 Premier League teams now backing a trial. According to the story, the official line from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is that the government believes that all-seater stadia are "the best means to ensure the safety and security of fans".

I have never been at a football match where there has been an emergency and I hope I never will. However, I fail to see that if the worst ever happens, the presence of thousands of plastic seats will make the situation better. It seems fairly obvious to me that the presence of those seats will in fact make the situation worse, as they provide a significant obstacle to fans attempting to exit the stadium swiftly.

The opponents of the safer standing campaign often cite the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, which tragically cost 96 innocent football fans their lives. I find this practice rather disrespectful to the memory of those fans. 96 lost lives should not be a weapon with which to passive-aggressively beat your opponents into submission, the insinuation being that if you support safe standing then you somehow have no sympathy for those that died that day and that you approve of disorder at football matches.

The Taylor Report, the official inquiry into the disaster, concluded that the main reason for the disaster was "the failure of police control". Any level-headed individual who has seen the footage of that terrible event can only conclude that the presence of thousands of plastic seats would have resulted in greater loss of life.

The argument for all-seater stadia that is presented is that sitting is intrinsically safer than standing. It is not. All-seater stadia were designed to control the mob, fill our grounds with happy clappy middle class fans sitting nicely in their seats.

I have nothing against anyone who wishes to sit at a football match, but this backlash against the hooliganism of the 70s and 80s has slowly eroded the atmosphere at our football grounds. Football in this country has come a long way from the regular unrest seen at games prior to all-seater stadia. I would never advocate a return to those dark days, but the backlash has gone too far and has turned our national game from one of pride and passion to one of passivity and prawn sandwiches.

For those who haven't seen it, the Football Supporters' Federation put together this clip which does an excellent job of highlighting the benefits of safe standing;

I would urge Ipswich Town Ist, the independent Supporters' Trust, and indeed the football club itself to publicly back the FSF's Safe Standing Campaign. Because isn't it about time we had the freedom to choose to stand safely?

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Robbie12345 added 13:12 - Dec 20
Interesting blog SouperJim. I was firstly against this, thinking that there would be no rails splitting the fans up and instead more like just steps. However, if done correctly (this 'rail seat' idea), it will add more capacity to the ground and anything to improve the atmposphere further would be happily recieved. Maybe make the whole or three-quarters of the Bobby Robson Lower, would be a way forward to get in more vocal supporters in for the diehard fans. Although, personally I can't see this happening unless the stadium reaches 23,000/24,000+ weekly, and maybe will be something to look forward to in the Prem, fingers crossed. 😊

cbower added 13:17 - Dec 20
A well written blog which deals with the sensitive issue of Hillsborough and the re-introduction of safe standing areas very clearly and with the respect it deserves. I would certainly be in favour of designated safe standing areas in modern grounds. I understand that there are a sizeable proportion of the crowd who enjoy the game most whilst standing up and if this can now be done safely (as proven in some other Leagues) then I don't see the objection. Currently we have the crazy situation where, having paid for a seat, some are then forced to stand in order to see the game. This affects those of more mature years and children in particular who either find standing quite difficult or are too small to get a decent view. Football is for everyone and safe-standing areas would make everyone happier - giving those who want to stand the option whilst leaving those who want to sit able to see the game. Might even improve attendances a little too.

Reuser_is_God added 13:44 - Dec 20
Class blog.

The sooner we get the atmosphere back into our stadiums the better.

Also getting rid of these seats will stop me cutting my shins up on the seat in front when I celebrate a goal like an absolute loon.

BillBlue added 13:46 - Dec 20
Good, well thought out blog Souper Jim. I can no longer go to matches but would support the right to stand campaign with my last breath. Two memories stand out over all the years. The first was at Wembley in the early sixties when I had been given a ticket to the FA Cup Final, cannot remember the teams though. I was one of the first into the allotted area and can remember the Steward saying, stand here against the back wall to save getting squashed. Being me I went to the front and leaaned on the barrier and was never squashed! The better memory is Portman Road, every match, standing in the front row of Portman Stand (the stand that backs onto Portman Road) with my young son on a milk crate beside me. In those days we used to get a massive crowd and there was never any problem whatsoever then all seating was introduced and sitting in the A Section of the same stand was never the same. With all seating something went out of football and I feel very sorry for the fans of today.

yorksblue added 16:00 - Dec 20
Only ground that I've been to where I have been comfortably sat is MK Dons. Give me standing any day, and as others have said, get the atmosphere back in the ground.

Retrohaze_blue added 22:54 - Dec 23
Good piece mate! I've posted this video before, and very glad to see it posted again as Safe standing is a 100% no brainer for me!
Apart from the odd exception most games these days leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed regarding atmosphere. It's quite sad for us as you look across to Europe to see how different and better things can be for fans! I know cheaper tickets are a big issue but its not everything!
Unfortunately, I can't ever see it being introduced over here unless significant numbers of fans push for it. Until then due to the people can afford to go to watch the games today and the F.A, .. I feel we'll continue to have the bland and sterile atmosphere's for a long long time to come! =o/

theobald1985 added 12:38 - Dec 30
good blog.hillsborough was not really the fault of standing it was the police and the stewards and we have safe standing throughout europe.
15 quid a ticket in the standing areas would be great and would improve the atmosphere no end

Slambo added 12:21 - Jan 1
Here here. I don't think anyone can seriously say now that standing areas are inherently dangerous. Regarding Hillsborough, the Great British Way has always been to give a sweeping knee jerk reaction to a problem rather than take a step back and look at how it can be simply be improved. I think there were other motives behind the demonization of standing areas - gentrification of the sport and turning 'supporters' into 'consumers' - but that's perhaps an argument for another blog...

I genuinely think standing will return, but my concern is thus: the authorities will only sanction some kind of watered down version of rail seats, with space for only one of row of people. In order for standing to facilitate a better atmosphere, the fans who want to sing and chant will need to be able to move around so they can congregate together. If the Football League only adopts the one row model (which is one of the versions displayed by the FSF, not in the above video but another one I've seen) fans will have just as much restriction of movement as now and you could find yourself stuck next to people who - although happy to stand - won't start any songs or join in with any you may wish to start. So if they want to improve atmosphere, they need to introduce the right model. I'm probably being very pessimistic, but my experience of all football governing bodies makes me suspicious they'll introduce some half-baked token measure then sneer 'told you so' when fans realise it's not what they were expecting. On a side note, I wouldn't expect a dip in the price of a standing ticket neither...

Lizzie68 added 16:09 - Jan 4
Unfortunately I'm old enough to remember standing in the SBR stand from a young age and even though I'm a little older now I still stand!!! I've also spent a few years living in Germany and going regularly to Monchengladbach games where I used to stand in the Nord Curve. The place was always packed to the rafters and as a woman in her 40's I never felt intimidated or scared to be in a standing area. In fact, quite the opposite, I LOVED IT!!! I have to say the best bit though was being able to drink while watching the game!! They even came round with beer carriers on their backs so you didn't have to miss a second of the action!! In winter everyone huddled together more to keep warm as well!!! Not sure we'd ever get to drink on a terrace again but I for one would love to stand legally and maybe, just maybe it will happen if all the fans & clubs get together and put a reasoned, impassioned case to the powers that be. Here's hoping............. :o)
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