All those in favour of safe standing, please rise
Easter Monday will play host to a match of legendary status. To mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, Liverpool legends from home and abroad will gather together to play a one-off match to raise money for the families of the 96 who lost their lives. This is the view of a young football fan of why, 25 years later on, safe standing should be allowed.
March 3rd, 2014
April 15th 1989 will be a day forever etched in the mind of not only Liverpool supporters, but the English footballing community at large. Even as a 23 year-old man, who wasn’t even alive when Hillsborough happened, I’m fully aware of the impact it has had.
Only in recent years has the real truth been released; the truth that the South Yorkshire Police were in fact to blame for their lack of crowd management. Losing control outside the ground, where 24,000 Liverpool fans were being funnelled through 23 turnstiles, the inexperienced Chief Superintendent, David Duckenfield, who was in charge of crowd control on the day then opened a large exit gate, where more fans (many without tickets) flooded in.
He then neglected to close off the tunnel leading to the already overcrowded central ‘pens’, causing the disaster. After this day, all Premiership and Championship clubs had to have all-seater stadiums. It’s understandable why this is the case, after all, nobody ever wanted a repeat of that fateful day. However having experienced standing myself in both England and abroad, I can’t help but think that this view is now out-dated and flawed.
I recently went on a trip to Borussia Monchengladbach’s ‘Borussia Park’ – a 54,000 seater stadium built in preparation for the 2006 World Cup. Despite various other actions that are allowed in German stadiums that aren’t in English stadiums (drinking alcohol and smoking in your seat are permitted at Bundesliga matches), one of the major differences you’ll notice is that the whole of the north stand (or NordKurve) is a standing area. You wouldn’t believe the way that this changes the atmosphere of the game. As I sat there, along with 49,000 other fans, watching the NordKurve literally ‘bounce’, I realised that standing can not only be safe, but it can be greatly beneficial.
I’m not advocating that every stadium simply rips out half its seats and allows people to stand wherever they want. There needs to be rules to avoid what happened at Hillsborough and make sure that every single person attending is safe. New build stadiums, plus stadiums built in the last 10 years, should be able to install rail seats as advocated by Bristol City, Aston Villa and Peterborough. I say the last 10 years, as these are the stadiums which have been built to modern standards, rather than outdated stands that have had more seats added in to increase capacity (here’s looking at you, Stamford Bridge!).
As ever with football, we seem to be behind the times. We have crowd control systems meaning that stadiums can filter out effectively in case of fires. Stadiums such as the Stadium of Light have sunken pitches where the pitch is below ground level, meaning that the barriers that stopped fans getting on to the Hillsborough pitch would not be an issue. We have rail seats that can either be used as normal seats, or locked in place for when clubs want to allow standing.
As a young fan, I might not have been around to witness the Hillsborough disaster. But as with most things, I’m not saying we should forget those that suffered in April 1989. Rather, we should learn from the mistakes that have been made, utilise technology and new stadium design, and allow fans to enjoy football the way they want to, whether that be sitting or standing.