Are Celtic, Aston Villa And Rangers Right About The Return Of Terraces?
Along with Aston Villa, Celtic and Rangers have lent their voice to the campaign for safe standing at British football grounds, so will it remain at stalemate? Or can we learn from an example set by the Bundesliga?
News that the Scottish Premier League have said they would be amenable to the idea of safe standing at their grounds has put this idea back on the agenda. Unfortunately the Department for Culture, Media and Sport immediately quashed any hope that this outbreak of common sense might spread to England by saying there is “no compelling case” to change the law on all-seater stadia.
Not only is this nonsensical, it’s also factually inaccurate. It’s not compulsory to have all-seater stadia in the areas covered by the Taylor Report (currently the Premier League and Championship); the only requirement is that the Secretary of State can order the relevant licensing authority to force grounds to impose “requirements as respects the seating of spectators at designated football matches at the premises.” In particular, there isn’t any law forbidding standing in a seated area. Indeed, the DCMS stated in a letter to the Football Supporters Federation in 2008 that “At no point has it been argued that the individual spectator commits a criminal offence by standing in a seated area.”
This nonsensical approach gets worse when considering the Football League’s model set of ground rules, which in one sentence states that “Nobody may stand in any seating area whilst play is in progress.” then follows this with “Persistent standing in seated areas whilst play is in progress is strictly forbidden.” From ‘never’ to ‘only persistently’ in the space of a full stop.
Of course, however daft the theory might be, the practicalities of imposing these regulations are even more absurd. Everyone at some time needs to leave their seat during the match. Most people will stand up in response to what’s happening during the game, and some try to do so more often. Some grounds are notoriously strict on enforcing sitting down while others have a more common sense approach to the situation.
This nonsensical approach gets worse when considering the Football League’s model set of ground rules, which in one sentence states that “Nobody may stand in any seating area whilst play is in progress.” then follows this with “Persistent standing in seated areas whilst play is in progress is strictly forbidden.”
It’s all a bit ludicrous, and in contrast to the Taylor Report, which in 1990 said that within a few years supporters would be used to sitting down. Then again, it also said that it should be possible to plan “a price structure which suits the cheapest seats to the pockets of those presently paying to stand.”
Whatever happens, under the current system some supporters will remain unhappy. Either they have to sit when they want to stand, or they have to stand because everyone else is doing the same when they want to sit down.
That being the case, surely it’s time to have a proper, serious, look at the concept of safe standing for top football grounds in England and Scotland. The arguments against its introduction have been put forward ever since 1989, and have been refuted every time. Terraces did not cause the Hillsborough disaster – fences and bad policing did. They are not more dangerous than seats.
When challenged, the Football Licensing Authority admitted “the injury statistics we produce do not provide firm statistical evidence that standing is less safe than seating.” Even back in 1989, the Technical Working Party of the Taylor Report found that “standing accommodation is not intrinsically unsafe.”
But for the biggest example of a point being missed with relation to safe standing, look (unsurprisingly) in the direction of the DCMS, and their spokesman’s reaction to the SPL proposals “All-seater stadia…have contributed to the diversity of those attending matches in recent years.”
Again, it has to be said. You don’t HAVE to stand if you don’t want to. New technology has come up with areas that can be used for standing and which are every bit as comfortable as traditional seated areas. The Bundesliga has these in abundance – the Westfalenstadion, home of Borussia Dortmund, regularly sees over 24,000 supporters standing safely in a ground with a capacity of 80,720. Like other standing areas in Germany, this area comprises ‘vario’ seats, with rails spaced together allowing one or two rows of spectators to stand between them. The rails have flip-up seats which are locked upright for Bundesliga games where supporters can stand, and locked down for games which come under UEFA jurisdiction and standing is still forbidden. Prices for these areas are also around a quarter of the average in the Premier League.
New technology has come up with areas that can be used for standing and which are every bit as comfortable as traditional seated areas. The Bundesliga has these in abundance..
As for the clubs, they also seem to be changing their opinions. In Scotland, Celtic and Motherwell have already expressed an interest in the idea, and more importantly so have Rangers – which is of particular relevance due to the Ibrox disaster of 1971, the worst in a British football ground pre-Hillsborough, and because the stadium was virtually all-seater even before the Taylor Report.
Aston Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner recently added that an area of Villa Park has already been earmarked for a trial of safe standing should current regulations be relaxed, and that the club welcomed a full debate on the matter. Villa’s common sense approach is to be welcomed, and copied.
It may lead to criticism from the uninformed and hysterical, but such a trial is long overdue. The current situation of an unenforceable rule and inconvenienced supporters is doing no good to anyone.
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