Safe Standing in Football

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United in Benfica’s all-seater stadium, 2017

One of the bigger debates relating to football fans currently is the topic of Safe Standing. With fans wanting to improve atmospheres in grounds, as well as allow for safer conditions, there’s a lot of momentum behind the campaign. It’s been debated in Parliament and more clubs are taking note of the clear advantages of introducing safe standing areas in stadiums.

What is Safe Standing?

Modern, all-seater stadiums are designed for just that, sitting. In reality the majority of fans at football games stand for the full 90 minutes. Standing is part of the buzz of being at matches and you don’t get that by abiding by club’s ‘only stand in moments of excitement‘ policy. Terraces were a key feature in all top flight grounds until the Taylor report in 1990 ruled that they must be all-seater after the Hillsborough disaster in ’89.

Whilst that remains a sensitive subject with a criminal investigation still ongoing 30 years later, the safe standing proposals are not designed to see a return to the terraces of the ’80s. Of course, some fans do want the convenience of sitting, and so one of the aims of the campaign is for ‘permitted standing areas’. The Spirit of Shankly, a Liverpool fans group, surveyed their supporters and 88% were in favour of the ‘rail seating’ option.

Rail seating is now in place at a number of grounds in the UK, with Celtic and Shrewsbury Town leading the way in supporting safe standing. Rail seating allows for increased capacity, with the option of seats being locked up or down (depending on the governing body’s rules) and with rail barriers for support in between each row. This resolves many of the issues with standing in seated areas, which provide little or no protection from erratic movement of crowds.

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Photo credit: FSF & Celtic FC

Germany is probably the leading country when it comes to clubs adopting safe standing, with many Bundesliga grounds opting for the same style rail seats – something we experienced on our trip to Wolfsburg a few years ago. A benefit of this is, as well as generally better ownership and fan involvement, is that season tickets in Germany are much cheaper. For the 2018/19 season the average price across the 18 Bundesliga teams was €185 (£162) for a standing ticket, and €319 (£280) for seated. In comparison the average Premier League season ticket was £516 in ’18/19.

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Wolfsburg’s rail seats ‘locked’ down

The increase in capacity makes it worthwhile for clubs, allowing for cheaper tickets as well as an improved atmosphere. The Südtribüne (South Bank) or ‘yellow wall’ at Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion is the biggest standing terrace in Europe, with a capacity of almost 25,000 thanks to safe standing. The stadium’s 81,000 capacity is however reduced by 15,500 for European matches due to UEFA’s policy of matches being played in all-seater stadiums.

The Future of Safe Standing

A safe standing petition in 2018 gained over 112,000 signatures after a proposal from West Brom was rejected, and so the issue was debated in Parliament. Whilst the Government have always cited the Taylor report post-Hillsborough as their current policy, given that “all-seater stadia are the best means to ensure the safety and security of fans” they did admit that:

The time is now right for us to reexamine that policy in light of the technological changes in stadium and seating design as well as the representations from both clubs and supporters on this issue.

The ‘Safe Standing roadshow’ have done a fantastic job with the FSF in showcasing the benefits to clubs and supporters around the country, and this month Wolves announced that they were to become the first Premier League club to introduce rail seats. This followed Tottenham Hotspur who “future-proofed” their new ground for safe standing with the addition of rail barriers.

It’s backed by the FA, Premier League and EFL, whilst the Government’s review is still ongoing. The fact that club’s are moving on it though is promising. Older grounds like Old Trafford may prove slightly trickier, however United are doing a lot of structural work at the moment to increase disabled facilities. Supporter lobbying and campaigning is one of the best ways to highlight the demand and benefits to clubs, something which will only grow stronger in the coming seasons.

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