Safe Standing and the Sanitisation of Football

The discussion on safe-standing in football has been a long and drawn out one, but it can definitely work in the modern game. Here’s The Anfield Talk’s Sam (@sammillnelfc) with his view on it, and how the Reds can incorporate it into Anfield.

FA Carling Premiership Match: Liverpool v Norwich City : News Photo
Liverpool fans, queuing patiently for a ticket 
Before I start, I would like to state that this article has been written with the full intention of giving the utmost respect and support to the Hillsborough Family Support Group and anyone (including personal family members) who have been affected by Hillsborough. I would like to offer a balanced view and aim to educate others on what safe standing would entail, its pros and its cons.

Not since the early 1990s, has English football seen a top-flight fixture, played in front of supporters without individual seats. The law of the land states that all English Premier League and Championship teams who have been present in these divisions for more than three years must have all-seater stadia. This law first came into place, following Lord Justice Taylor’s post-Hillsborough report. Additionally, Taylor recommended that stadiums reduce the permitted crowd density on terraces and he condoned the removal of spikes from all perimeter fences.

Over the coming years, these new laws would have a colossal effect on the look, sound, feel and even the smell of football stadia in England. Many old terraces such as the famous Spion Kop were regenerated down, in order to produce safer, more modern stands. The government, rightly so, wanted to clean up football’s image. To many, football had become a place where hooliganism was rife and there were often hostile atmospheres. Despite all this, there wasn’t a single reported incident of hooliganism from Liverpool fans, at Anfield, throughout the entire 1980s. It’s interesting what you find out when you don’t just listen to the national press, isn’t it?

The commercialisation of Division One, in 1992, saw it morph into the Premier League. There were to be more televised matches and a greater focus on English football from abroad. The Premier League wanted a product that it could brand and sell to overseas supporters, meaning there were advertisers coming from afar, exotic big name signings and more money at the very top of the English game.

The following two decades saw a vast decrease in the number of football hooliganism episodes. The beautiful game had become more family friendly and the Premier League was continuing to promote its clean image through massive overseas TV deals.

Unfortunately, many believe that the Premier League are sanitising football of its passion and tribal nature. This is where safe-standing comes in.

All seater stadiums were introduced after the Hillsborough disaster. Whilst there is no doubt that the standing of yesteryear was an accident waiting to happen, it did usually cater for an atmosphere at football grounds. As we officially now know, Hillsborough was not caused by standing.

Yes, it contributed to the deaths of 96 innocent men, women and children

Yes, the standing sections of football’s past were undoubtedly dangerous.

However…

No, it was not the main cause of the disaster.

Sub-standard policing, outdated stadium certificates and a lack of response from the relevant authorities were the preeminent causes of the fatal crush.

The lack of evident issues facing safe standing at football has seen a number of survey results, over the last 15 years, massively favour safe standing. For example, in a survey run by the Football Supporters Federation, in 2012, 91.1% of voters wanted the choice of sitting or standing.

The belief is that standing is more likely to induce singing and supporting than sitting. Furthermore, all seater stadia hasn’t actually stopped standing. All around the country, people stand by their seats instead of sit. Is this not conducive of a more dangerous environment, where tripping is and falling is possible?

The cry for safe standing has become ever noisier as Celtic introduced a rail seating section-similar to that of nearly half of Bundesliga clubs. The safe standing section of Celtic Park continues to be a resounding success with regards to spectator safety and the stadium’s atmosphere for fixtures that would normally be regarded as less important. It is also fact that several German clubs have had safe-standing implemented without a fuss for many years now.

Notwithstanding the Premier League’s enormous influx of cash into the first-class game, a lot of clubs’ most devoted supporters have become priced out of football. It was only two years ago, when we saw the vast majority of Anfield leave on the 77th minute. On 77 minutes, Liverpool were 2-0 up. At full-time, in front of an eerie Kop, the score was 2-2. Whether it was coincidence or not, it certainly supports the slogan, ‘football without fans is nothing’.

The convergence of tourism, excessive ticket prices and the sanitisation of football have manufactured a ‘fake’ atmosphere at many stadiums around the country. Fans are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of atmosphere and the ‘out of towners’ that come with the Premier League’s commercialisation. These fans see safe standing as a way of bringing back football’s pre-1992 glory days, where stadiums would be bouncing and players would run through a brick wall for the badge on their shirt. Not only that, but safe standing could, in theory, be implemented in a relatively harmless manner. In fact, football-related arrests and banning orders  figures (published by the UK Home Office) show that in both the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons, the rate of arrest per 100,000 supporters was higher at League One and League Two clubs with all-seated grounds than at those with standing. These statistics demonstrate to wary supporters, that a return of standing to football grounds wouldn’t increase the likelihood of football-related violence or crime.

Although all of the advantages of safe-standing exist, there must be (and has been) a substantial effort to take into account the HFSG’s feelings on the topic. At this time, they are still opposed to safe standing, however this doesn’t reflect the Liverpool fan base’s overriding opinion. This could be seen, when the Spirit of Shankly supporter’s group conducted a survey on the matter. An immense 88% of almost 18,000 people voted in favour of safe standing at Anfield. Throughout the process, the Spirit of Shankly behaved amicably and fully respected the views of the HFSG.

The issue of safe-standing is unlikely to go away and the call for its introduction will only become louder. In my opinion, it is only right that Liverpool should be at the forefront of any debate surrounding safe standing’s introduction and that everyone should be allowed to have their opinion as long as they have been educated on how safe standing would work and what the overall outlook would be like.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar