Standing Up for Football

We’ve all been there. It’s the last minute and your team is clinging on to a vital, undeserved win away from home. You stand and bellow support for your lads with their backs against the walls, frantically throwing themselves in front of every ball headed toward the goal to break your heart.

Or stood on the balls of your feet, arms aloft, savouring every last note of the band’s encore. After wholeheartedly participating in the circling, moshpit in the centre of the venue throughout the gig.

Even stood, screeching, encouraging your horse to win by a nose and net you a cool couple of hundred pounds of profit.

Now replace the word stand or stood with sit or sat, and it’s not quite the same experience is it? Yet there is only one of those situations that is an offence, meaning ejection from the event you were enjoying. Then maybe even a ban for life from returning to the place where the offence was committed.

Yes, with the shadow of the Hillsborough disaster looming behind it, football is a different, and definitely more sensitive issue. However, essentially within each situation are just normal people actively enjoying their passion.

Lord Justice Taylor’s report on Hillsborough is not something to be ignored or taken lightly, in fact because it has been embraced is the reason going to watch football has become the popular, all- inclusive and above all safe pastime it is today.

However, although Lord Justice Taylor recommended all-seater stadia in English football, a rule that has been implemented in the top two tiers, it never said the actual act of standing was to cause for the horrible tragedy that day. Rather ‘the muddled stadium maintenance, safety inspection regime… poor approach to stadium design and event management.’

In the same report, commenting on his recommendation to move to all-seater stadia, Taylor stated, ‘spectators will be accustomed and educated to sitting.’ This is the basis of the most compelling case for the introduction of safe standing in England. Every week at most football grounds throughout the country, masses of supporters stand (especially in the away end) with stewards seemingly powerless to stop them.

20 years on and football supporters have not become accustomed to seating, and probably never will. Yet those behind, whether young, elderly or disabled have only two choices, try and stand and try and peek above or around those in front, or just not be able to see. Yet the footballing authorities are ignoring the perfect solution to this problem, a safe standing area where those who want to stand can, and those who want to sit can, and both enjoy the game.

Another problem stopping football followers from enjoying the game is the cost to be able to. The cheapest ticket at Old Trafford for the most supported club in England is £27. This being good value for money in the premier league, it costs £39 in the family end at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea home games. Conversely, the cost to see a top-flight game at the most supported club in the German Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund is €14 (£12), less than half the price of Manchester United. Amazing value for money, especially considering the strength of the Euro against the Pound.

The reason this can be done is the immense 24,454 capacity Südtribüne at Westfalenstadion. (Shown in the photograph with article)  Given the nickname ‘The Opera House’ because of the huge passion demonstrated at every home game. This is a perfect example of how safe standing can be achieved. There are small areas holding just over 2000 people where just those with the correct ticket are allowed to enter, with ample room for each person. While the terrace can be transformed into an all seater stadium to be able to host events such as the Italy and Germany World Cup semi-final in 2006, and the 2001 UEFA cup final between Liverpool and Deportivo Alaves.

German football clubs can allow choice for the fans because of the refreshing attitude of the German football association, DFB. After Hillsborough the DFB reviewed its policy on standing at football matches, like the FA. But chose to keep standing areas for various valid reasons including the fear of children standing on seats on steep terraces trying to see above those stood in front of them, and to ensure a greater social inclusion to football games.

Yet the most striking aspect of the reasons for their decisions is this statement, ‘Football is culture… the solidarity inspired by a sense of community’ Imagine this coming from the FA’s slick PR machine? That statement and all that surrounds it is surely what football is all about, groups of friends going to games and becoming one group with hundreds, or thousands of others. Something that is being lost with billionaire oil baron owners and wall to wall live football on sky sports.

Therefore, don’t think of the standing argument as a yearn for the dark days, rather a look forward to a future with the choice for affordable, safe standing areas, a chance to reclaim football for its fans.

After all what other industry (and the government) would ignore its consumers.  In a survey conduced by The Football Fans’ Census 92% of football fans said fans should be given the choice whether they stand or sit inside football grounds. A clear illustration of the feeling on what is one of the most important issues in English football, yet an issue that gets so sadly ignored.

Can two wrongs make a right?
A weekend to remember