Manchester United, Chelsea and Brighton & Hove Albion are the latest clubs to explore the possibility of installing a so-called safe standing area at their grounds begging the question as to whether, 27 years after Hillsborough, the call for a return to terraces in English stadiums is becoming too loud to be ignored.
Brighton officials have let it be known that they have visited Celtic and Borussia Dortmund to investigate the systems they have installed. A 2,975-capacity rail seating section was opened in the north-east corner of Celtic Park in July and has generally received a favourable response. This format allows for seats to be removed for competitions in which standing is allowed and replaced with a one-for-one standing area. Each supporter has a ticket for an allocated area and, in effect, stands where their seat would have been.
Albion chief executive Paul Barber explained:
“You don’t just stand where you want, which was one reason why, previously, safety officers have been against safe standing. We will still be able to identify who is in each position.
“What I heard from Celtic is people get possessive about their standing positions. You will not have people doubling up in one space. It will be an orderly type of standing.”
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell described it as “an investment in spectator safety”.
Design and organisation appear to be the key factors if standing is to make a widespread comeback.
West Ham United’s move to the London Stadium has had teething problems, to say the very least, and Hammers supporters who were previously allowed to stand throughout matches at Upton Park, but who are now firmly ordered to sit down, are particularly aggrieved. This is exacerbated by blocks of fans, who used to share each other’s company, being split up by the move. Furthermore, the stewarding is not now carried out by employees of West Ham but by the stadium’s own operating company.
When a terrace community, which has developed over many years, is split up in this way, even the prospect of free bets at freesupertips.co.uk offers scant consolation. Those on each side of the standing debate will be keenly watching this particular space in east London over the coming months.
Of course, thousands of supporters on their feet in front of their seats is not an uncommon sight these days. It is clearly in breach of safety regulations and blocks views, especially for the younger and more elderly attendees. It can be the cause of arguments between fans and unrest with stewards. It can also cause injury as recently seem at the KCOM Stadium in Hull when a Manchester United supporter suffered a broken leg when a joyous goal celebration spilled over the seats and onto the pitch.
At the instigation of the club’s Supporters’ Trust, it was reported this week that senior United executives have since visited Celtic Park.
Another noteworthy development is that it has been reported that Chelsea will consider a safe standing area at their rebuilt Stamford Bridge, although only if the government change the laws.
Four years ago, the Football Supporters’ Federation’s National Fans Survey revealed that, of the 4,000 respondents, 54.4% said they preferred to stand while 91.1% said they should be given the choice to sit or stand.
Of course, despite the passing of time, the events at Hillsborough remain fresh in the minds of Liverpool supporters. It would be quite understandable if the very thought of a return to standing areas filled them with dread.
However, Reds’ supporters’ organisations are now showing signs of being prepared to explore the options. Members of the Liverpool supporters’ group Spirit of Shankly were asked at September’s AGM whether they should adopt a position on rail seating. 93% voted in favour with just 4.7% against.
Whilst Germany led the way on safe standing, leagues in Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands also now operate safe standing. Australia, the United States and Russia are set to follow.
Premier League clubs Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Swansea City, Burnley, Hull City and Watford are known to be who are actively pushing for safe standing. Indeed, there is now a growing sense that an increasing number of requests from individual clubs could result in the Premier League and Football League approaching the UK government for their views on rail seats meeting existing regulations.
The time for sitting around a table may not be far away.