Could Safe Standing Areas Be Returning to English Football?
The Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 tragically killed 96 Liverpool FC fans on a day that should have brought joy. One of the legacies of the catastrophe is the continued ban on standing in the upper echelons of English football. However, there are signs that the stance of the FA, the Football League and the police is softening.
It’s important to remember the reasons for the disaster before delving into this subject. Terraces weren’t the cause of this dreadful and needless loss of life — incompetence from the authorities was. Had the police not simply opened the gates to allow thousands of unticketed fans into the ground, those 96 souls wouldn’t have died. Make no mistake: this was a case of human error and gross negligence. Managed correctly, there is nothing inherently dangerous about standing areas.
England’s first new standing area for more than 25 years
After several years of campaigning by a few lower league clubs — and thousands of ordinary football fans — Shrewsbury Town FC is on the verge of introducing England’s first safe standing area. A crowdfunding campaign raised nearly £70,000 to pay for the scheme, which will involve substantial alterations to the Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium.
The club has formally applied for permission to convert a seated area into a safe standing zone — complete with the same type of rails that are currently in use at Celtic’s stadium. And the Shrewsbury Town hierarchy know that the eyes of the footballing community in England are watching closely. If this scheme is a success, it could persuade Premier League clubs to follow suit. Indeed, all 20 clubs were asked their opinions in June, and it is believed that more than half support the idea in principle.
At present, any club that has competed in the top two divisions of English football for three seasons or more must have an all-seater stadium. This puts a great strain on any clubs with ambitions of progressing through the various tiers of the game.
But there is more to this issue that just cost. Of course, clubs may be able to increase their capacity for a relatively small price, but this is about more than money. For some fans, standing at a game is the best way to watch. Take a close look at certain sections of any Premier League ground on a match day, and you’ll see hundreds — if not thousands — of fans ignoring the rules by standing next to their assigned seat.
Football needs to face reality
The simple reality is that fans are already standing at top-flight football matches — in areas that aren’t designed for standing. Ignoring this issue could actually cause injuries and accidents, so Shrewsbury Town’s scheme will be of interest to all of football’s power brokers.
Celtic FC was able to install safe-standing areas after consultation with the local council in Glasgow. But the situation in England is much different. Shrewsbury Town can install their own standing area because they haven’t played in England’s top two divisions for three years or more. If they had, what they’re doing would be illegal — as it is for all of the country’s top clubs. But should this move prove to be a success, there will undoubtedly be calls for a change in the law.
The latest standing areas involve a hybrid system of metal railings and seats. Celtic, for instance, have seats that can be folded upwards and locked into position — giving club officials the option of creating both seated and standing areas on a game-by-game basis. Crucially, standing fans must take up their assigned space, just like they would with a seat.
Go to any top ground in Germany, and you will see this system in operation. Modern safe-standing systems have a proven track record of safety, so there’s no reason why the idea shouldn’t be considered in England.
When the Taylor Report recommended the banning of standing areas at leading football grounds, the atmosphere was very different. Quite disgracefully, the Liverpool fans were still being labelled as the guilty party, and banning terraces was the system’s way of sweeping the issue under the carpet. But we now know the real causes of the Hillsborough Disaster — so maybe it’s time to give standing another chance.