In almost all football debate, as soon as the words ‘safe standing’ are uttered, there is a very clear line; some are in favour of the option, and others are not.
The reality is that, safe standing at football matches is only as dangerous as the security that is available. The tragic and harrowing events of Hillsborough and Heysel, as wretched as they were, did not occur as a result of having areas of unsafe standing. Hillsborough, a constantly ongoing case, has finally told the story of bad policing and security being at the centre of the tragedy.
Forces of conservatism will tell you that the developments in safety standards at football matches in the last twenty years would be undermined if a return to non-seating areas were to be implemented. And although some are willing to acknowledge the argument for safe standing from a commercial standpoint. Those who have reservations would seem to be coming from an emotional, rather than a rational standpoint.
These critics should be open to fan led football initiatives and be prepared to work towards a more feasible way of allowing fans go to football matches. Many people are being forced to sit at home to watch football matches simply due to high ticket prices. The implementation or reintroduction of safe standing could lead to a more stratified pricing system. This would allow people in less advantageous positions take part in one of English football’s dearest traditions.
The blueprints are there. One just need look at the success of non-seated areas in the Westfalenstadion, home of Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund. The difference in capacity is quite staggering. For European matches, which are still required to be all seated, the ground holds 65,718 spectators, but for Dortmund’s domestic games, the standing areas in the southern stand brings the capacity up to a formidable 80,720.
Not only does this add to an immense atmosphere, and Dortmund’s elaborate and frequently stunning choreos, but it also makes for huge differences in gate receipts.
Granted, in the current world, gate receipts are overshadowed by television rights. Gate receipts are only an added bonus for a team like Dortmund, but imagine what the extra attendance would do for clubs in less financially secure positions.
A curious ruling is in place in England at the moment where teams in Leagues 1 and League 2 are allowed to have safe standing, but Championship sides are not. Sensibly, this rule is under review and all the 72 clubs in the football league are in favour of rolling out plans for standing areas in every stadium.
The events of Hillsborough and Heysel, and the people who lost their lives on those days, should always be remembered and honoured, as they are today. As emotive as the subject is, safe standing seems to be something that 95% of people are in favour of. With attendance numbers dwindling, club owners are aware that the days of fans blindly following them and attending every game are dissipating greatly.
Clubs need to give their customers a good deal to keep them coming to see what they are selling. Empty grounds look ugly, and they will grow increasingly ugly if immediate measures are not taken to change this. Safe standing could well turn out to be one of those measures.
Glen Desmond, Pundit Arena