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The return of Safe Standing Issue


Do you believe in safe standing  

22 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you believe in safe standing

    • Yes
    • No

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A few years ago I was interested in the concept of safe standing as you see practised in Germany successfully but a campign led by some Man Utd fans fizzled out. Saw this in the Guardian and it makes interesting reading.

Time to talk about standing?

"My lovely son Kevin did not die because of standing on terraces, he died because of the lack of control and care by South Yorkshire Police. I believe terraces are safe without perimeter fences. Standing never killed anybody, cages and treating people like animals did." Anne Williams, chair of Hillsborough Justice Campaign, mother of 15-year-old Kevin, who died in pen three.

Georgina Turner

Friday April 15, 2005

Terrible memories, yes, but they are no substitute for real discussion. (

Such is the legacy of Hillsborough that today, 16 years on, football will again bow its head in a solemn prayer for the 96 lives lost, and rue the preventable chaos in which they were extinguished. The disaster is at once English football's saddest memory, its biggest shame - and, even before the last petal wilted on the Kop, it became its hardest lesson learned.

The scale of Hillsborough led Margaret Thatcher to immediately commission Lord Justice Taylor to explore what had happened. His and media investigations pointed to massive failures by staff at the club and, in particular, South Yorkshire Police, whose delayed reaction and confused response to the crushes in pens three and four doubtless cost lives that day. The perimeter fencing, deemed unsafe three years earlier, had held many to their deaths.

But, having pointed the official finger of blame in the same direction as thousands of others in his interim report, Taylor's final report quickly retracted it, focussing instead on introducing all-seater stadia as a means of preventing a repeat of the tragedy.

In the intervening years, of course, this has been successfully introduced in the top two flights, and we have breathed a grateful sigh of relief to see no such recurrence. But now, questions are being asked as to how much this has to do with seating itself, and whether some standing could not safely be reintroduced.

This is no new idea, and the question was discussed everywhere except in the corridors of the Football Licensing Authority - who are charged with enforcing the rules on seating - four years ago. But in July last year, in response to increasing conflict between clubs and fans over persistent standing, a group of West Ham fans started the Stand Up Sit Down campaign. It has grown into a 3000-strong group, and their petition - calling for a choice between sitting down and standing at games - has been signed by some 2000 more, and includes supporters from 130 clubs.

This still represents a minority among the nation's football supporters, but the petition's founder Peter Caton is confident that his is a sentiment shared by many more - and the response to recent leafleting and protests has encouraged him.

"We've been to games and seen how many people stand all through the game," he says. "It's causing unnecessary conflict between staff and stewards at the club and fans, and we feel that if a controlled area could be dedicated to fans who prefer to stand, then that would actually improve safety.

"Recently I've been handing out leaflets at grounds, and we held a yellow-card protest at White Hart Lane the other week, and the jump in our membership afterwards was incredible."

The success of the protests has so far been immaterial, however: the biggest stumbling block is opening the subject up for debate, something the FLA has consistently prevented. Off the record, Caton says, several Premiership clubs have agreed with his campaign, but publicly, they refuse to break with the FLA's word on the subject. The lack of discussion has left fans suspicious of the FLA's motives.

"They don't want to talk about it because it will throw light on how weak their arguments are," says Caton. "They accept that I will jump up and down when a goal is scored, they accept that this is the most dangerous time in the game, and yet they want to stop me standing still the rest of the time.

"Of course Hillsborough is an incredibly emotive incident, but if you can look at it rationally, standing did not cause what happened. It makes me wonder if safety is the real issue here.

"First, if it is, then why aren't the FLA stopping clubs extending their grounds with these very tall, very steep tiers? They pose a far higher safety risk - but of course, they make everyone extra money.

"Second, I can - in fact I'm often forced to - stand on a bus or a train, which figures show is far more likely to injure or kill me. I just can't understand the discrepancy.

"Third, we've already seen that the threat of banning people who stand, or ground closures, doesn't work - not least because they can't afford to enforce it.

"So people will keep on standing, even in parts of the ground where it does pose a risk, and they will keep ruining the game for people behind them who would like to sit down. If the FLA really was concerned for safety, it would be working on a way to find somewhere appropriate for these fans to stand."

Neil Masterman is a Leeds season-ticket holder and persistent stander. In an effort to persuade fans to sit down in the Kop end, the Elland Road club has introduced a "Use it or lose it" campaign. He is also suspicious as to why he is being forced out of the ground.

"I know I risk losing my ticket because I've told them that I do stand, I do break ground regulations," he says. "It's so frustrating though, because there's no opportunity to explain why we stand, and talk about ways to do that safely.

"I think there is an underlying attempt to edge the average working class football fan out of the game. Us lot that want cheap standing tickets are worth less to them than a family who will buy lots of merchandise, or corporate clients who will throw money at the club. Never mind that we sing our hearts out."

In truth this might be a conspiracy theory too far, but with ever more awkward kick-off times, increasingly frequent kit-changes, and lower and lower away allocations, it's clear that the supporter features a fair way down football's list of priorities.

And, Masterman says, the FLA is focussing on the wrong issue. Tickets allocated to away fans are becoming fewer and fewer, sometimes as a punishment for persistent standing - Manchester United have seen their away allocations at Middlesbrough and Charlton slashed for that reason. What the FLA don't realise, however, is that the risk this creates is far greater.

"It means fans will just go and buy tickets in the other end. We've had to do it all season, even at games like Leicester, where you can expect a bit of aggro - and with years of segregation in place, that's what poses a bigger risk in my book," he explains. "It's a ridiculous situation."

Masterman also feels that the FLA are using outdated images of English hooliganism to dictate crowd control measures in what is now a very different environment.

"Police operations are far more sophisticated nowadays," he says, "and any incidences of violence are usually miles away from the ground.

"Besides, I don't like the implication that just because I want to stand I must be a hooligan."

The FLA might scoff at the mere suggestion, but chief executive John de Quidt's comments suggest the organisation does not necessarily equate football supporters with the average law-abiding citizen. Why were restricted standing areas, which work well in Germany, dismissed as a possibility here after an FLA fact-finding mission to Hamburg? Why have the Gaelic Athletic Association seen fit to introduce a standing terrace at Croke Park? A key factor, of course, is that the changes needed within a ground to incorporate the areas present a sizeable investment for clubs. That aside, however, the FLA's stance is revealing.

"It's a question of culture, the way the fans behave here compared to the way they do there," says de Quidt. "It tends to be a defined sort of crowd that we get at football games here." No mention, strangely, of the German fans who went on the rampage little more than a fortnight ago in Slovenia, smashing cars, throwing flares, and clashing with policemen.

"Standing would change the whole character of football crowds these days," he went on. "You're likely to lose the women and older people who tend to be a civilising force on the crowd, and be left with masses of testosterone-fuelled young men."

Sweeping generalisations and condescension aside, there's no doubting that a proportion of the female and older crowd will prefer to sit down, but they'll doubtless also be joined by more than a few men. De Quidt is clearly positioning the male football fan within a context of hooliganism - which has demonstrably receded in this country. What remains is missile throwing, of course, though the FLA insist that seating is a preventative measure.

With all the incidents we've seen even this season, that clearly isn't the case, and in fact the culprit when a bottle struck Arsene Wenger when Arsenal played Sheffield United in the FA Cup last month was a 14-year-old girl. It is also inconsistent to assume that someone unruly enough to want to throw something onto the pitch would be too cowardly to defy ground regulations and simply stand to launch it.

The FLA was born of the Taylor report, it is their job to see that the recommendations made are adhered to, and for that you cannot fault them. What is worrying, though, is that while Lord Taylor stated that "standing accommodation is not intrinsically unsafe", de Quidt's fundamental argument against opening discussion on standing areas is that "standing, by definition, is always going to be unsafe". We should not be comfortable with the fact that de Quidt and his organisation are sticking stubbornly to this opening gambit before closing their ears to further discussion.

Ultimately, though, John de Quidt and the FLA have the easier battle to fight. "I'm not prepared to wait for another disaster before people accept that standing is not safe, are you?" asks the chief executive, with the ease of a man who has said the same a million times before. No doubt a silence has followed just as often.

It is incredibly difficult to emerge from this exchange of fire clutching one argument having confidently kicked the other into touch. The fact that a lot of the FLA's reasoning against the notion of standing is fallible does not in itself make the reintroduction of standing right or wrong.

We must also consider that though the memory of Hillsborough grows older, it has yet to fade, continuing to make many people uncomfortable with the idea of standing. But what must not happen is that the people with the power to effect change use those horrific memories in the place of real argument. That they do not use the trepidation with which people approach what happened at Hillsborough to prevent discussions on change (which might yet establish the standers as a minority) - it is an insult to the memory of those that died to use their fate in such a way. If there really are fans who would prefer to stand, they must be allowed a voice. And somebody must listen.

What the Premier League says

"The provision of all-seater stadia in the top two divisions of English football is government policy. In addition both Uefa and Fifa require all-seater stadia for their competitions. Premier League clubs have invested over £1.5bn in their stadia over the past 13 years and we believe we have the finest and safest set of club stadia in world football. This combined with effective and professional stewarding and intelligence led policing, has seen public disorder all but eliminated from Premier League grounds. I would be surprised if government did anything that might compromise that safety record."

What the clubs say

We asked all 20 Premiership clubs whether they would like to see the idea discussed, and whether they believed their fans would be interested. Half of them - Bolton, Charlton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, and Newcastle - did not respond. Three - Arsenal, Blackburn, and Tottenham Hotspur - chose simply to send us the Premier League's statement (above). Of those that did offer us their views (Aston Villa, Birmingham, Norwich, Portsmouth, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion), most were positive. Their comments are shown below.

Aston Villa

If this is something that is going to be the future of football, and it had the backing or the relevant authorities, then it is certainly something we would look at. If it's done through the proper channels, I don't see any reason for clubs not to look at it. There are lots of factors involved in what the fans would make of it, but it would be likely to lower ticket prices, and any fan in their right mind would welcome that.


If the relevant authorities were happy to consider the proposals then Birmingham City would also be happy to look at the possibility. Looking further ahead the benefits could mean that we, Birmingham City FC with a limited capacity crowd, could offer more people access to see our Premiership games and offer cheaper ticket prices for standing. We are sure some of our supporters would love to see a standing area as long as it is safe and can be controlled.


We would certainly welcome any sensible discussion, by the relevant authorities, re-addressing the whole question of safe standing. We do have a number of supporters who prefer to stand, but at the moment we obviously try and adhere to regulations. We always try and make a point of talking to our fans about this sort of thing, and we held a consultation earlier in the season where we talked about the question of standing. We take that very seriously and we'd continue to press for standing if indeed legislation was to change. Any changes we made would be after a thorough national review involving the relevant authorities, and subsequently involving full consultation with supporters.


We adhere to the law, and the law is that all stadiums have to be all-seater. I don't know whether football would be interested in that kind of thing. We're in the throes of preparing for a new stadium, and that, at this moment in time, is designated as an all-seater stadium, so we're going ahead with that. It would be very difficult at this stage to go back on that and put in facilities for people to stand.


We have long campaigned for an open debate on this subject and we were one of the first clubs to do so. We would welcome any sensible discussion involving all the relevant authorities to reinvestigate the issue of safe standing at matches.

West Bromwich Albion

The club has invested heavily in converting The Hawthorns into an all-seater stadium which we believe has made the ground a much safer place to watch football. Should the government decide to change its policy on this issue, we would reconsider our own position, but we don't envisage this being the case.

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Good article. Interesting, if a little one-sided.

I'll give a more informative posting when I'm not drunk. However, I haven't voted either way... largely because I'm a little ambivalent to the idea prima facie... but the article makes some valid points.

Perhaps the stewards could be a little more lax when comes to enforcing the letter of the law... this would certainly circumvent the segregation issues alluded to in the article...

In short, wait 'til I'm sober... then I'll respond.

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Its never going to happen though.

Clubs have invested heavily in CCTV to look at all areas of the crowd, and the Police are big fans of this.

If standing was to come back, then the CCTV which gives clubs such control and security would be redundant, because getting lost in the crowd so easily.

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The comments by Villa are very interesting - thinking of teh fans? I thought we never did that ...

Thinking of the increased capacity more like. You can bet your house on the fact that although the tickets will be cheaper, the amount of money taken for the space involved will be greater should this ever happen.

Might aswell abandon the Hotel plans too if this were ever to happen as European matches have to be ALL SEAT under UEFA rules

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Bicks have you seen the safe standing areas at Bayern, Dortmund etc. (remember they have the world cup). Check it out because what happens is that it is like normal terracing but for European games they bring seats down and fix them like normal seating areas.

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I would love it if terracing came back.

Kids today havent seen football. You havent seen football if you've never seen it from a swaying terrace. Not the same from a seat.

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Bicks have you seen the safe standing areas at Bayern, Dortmund etc. (remember they have the world cup). Check it out because what happens is that it is like normal terracing but for European games they bring seats down and fix them like normal seating areas.

Yes but the point must be that THEY REGULARLY QUALIFY FOR EUROPE and could justify the cost of implementing such a system as it will be used Season on Season, could we justify the cost on that basis?

EDIT: I don't want to sound negative as I am in favour of Safe Standing, the Taylor Report was a complete over-reaction, the problems at Hillsborough were almost unique, a stand that filled exclusively from the back and the crowds were channelled through very narrow passages - anyone who was there the previous season for the identical fixture (I was one) will tell you that it nearly happened the year before, that added to the fact the most logical road route from Liverpool to Hillsborough utilised the Snake Pass which anyone with half a brain would realise means DELAYS and fans arriving late

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I would love it if terracing came back.

Kids today havent seen football. You havent seen football if you've never seen it from a swaying terrace. Not the same from a seat.

Well every away game us Villa fans stand does that count? If not then ive never ever seen a game via terracing.

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Blues at home, Man Utd at home (in the league last season), every away game I've been to for the past few years, all standing for 90 minutes, the atmosphere has been so much better. That's another thing to consider

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Blues at home, Man Utd at home (in the league last season), every away game I've been to for the past few years, all standing for 90 minutes, the atmosphere has been so much better. That's another thing to consider

Nah, its not the same.

Standing on a terrace is just something else

A terrace is like, oh I dont know, one of those shoals of fish that all move as one, a single huge organism. Being part of that is what attracted me to football, standing in seats just doesnt give the same effect.

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I have changed my mind on standing. I used to be dead against it (npi), but given the behaviour of some stewards at matches, particularly this season (I'm talking away games) I am now in favour. Basically, the way I see it the Stadium licensing Authority is getting much stricter (loss of common sense) because they are treatened with being disbanded - it's a gravy train thing.

Ideally all seaters, with a relaxed, atmosphere towards some standing some of the time is fine. All seaters where you have fans standing permanently to make a point and stewards enforcing constant seated or get thrown out is just not condusive to safe arenas.

The West Ham fans who started this SUSD campaign have a sort of e mail distribution list, and I have happily passed on contact details ( nothing private) for the fanzine to them, where before I would have never even signed their petitiion,

Basically fans are being ullied by zealous quango people so that the quango people can stay in their cushy jobs It's got naff all to do with safety, the "clampdown"

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Standing on the only Holte End steps next to your mate and then scoring a goal and ending up about 20 yards appart. There is nothing like it. I only had about 3 years of Holte standing, and i had a tear in my eye when it went.

But should it be brought back? Well its a bit of a backwards step im some ways. But if people want to stand fair enough. How many matches you go to a match and you sit the other side of the stand from your mate? Dosn't happen on terracing.

On the down side it harder to find the idiots(ala Inter game).

I dont know in kinda on the fence, as all seaters have helped improve our game.

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  • 3 years later...

I would like to re open the discussion on this as i, being only 17, have never been able to experience what it is like to watch a villa match or any other for that matter whilst standing on terraces and have been told by my dad and many others of how much better the atmosphere was back when there were terraces.

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its an interesting point by Jarvo - a lot of people are now missing out on the standing in a football crowd experience

for me, it was the ability as a kid to wonder up and down the full holte as a kid, during the boring bits, followed by the scary buzz of a crowd surge in the good bits - that's what got me hooked

closest thing in quite some time was the upper holte for the full Ajax game - possibly my best day of '08

so, does anyone out there know of a ground low enough down the pecking order to still have standing, but with a crowd that can generate an atmosphere?

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