Standing at football matches is back on the agenda. But we’ve had all-seater stadiums for a generation, and in that time we’ve had no major disasters at English football grounds. That proves all-seater must be the right thing to do then, doesn’t it? No it doesn’t. There is nothing inherently dangerous about people standing at football matches, and it has many advantages.
The Arsenal atmosphere group REDaction currently have a campaign on to encourage Arsenal to take a lead in pressing for safe standing areas to be brought back to the Premier League. You can support this by signing their petition here.
Safe standing areas are a no-brainer for so many reasons. At the moment clubs are legally bound to make every effort to make fans sit down in the seats provided. All this does is piss off the people who want to stand. It’s also a rule that is never properly applied, because away fans aren’t made to sit down 99 times out of 100. Why not? Simply because there aren’t enough stewards to do the job, and the police would rather turn a blind eye than have to wade in to 3,000 fans who really don’t give a crap if they get banned from a stadium they visit at most once a season. So home fans get even more pissed off that not everyone is treated the same.
Safe standing areas allow segregation of ‘sitters’ from ‘standers’, so that no one is inconvenienced, either by the stewards or other fans. Each to his own, live and let live. With safe standing, the very young, the elderly, the infirm and the plain lazy can all sit without the need to peer round people standing in front of them, while the standers can go as mental as they want without annoying anyone. It’s so obvious.
Standing also allows more fans to be packed into the same space. The clubs could knock a bit off ticket prices and still make more money. In Arsenal’s case unfortunately this might be slightly more tricky, as there are issues with increasing the stadium capacity, in particular the local transport arrangements and tube capacity to get people away in larger numbers. But I’d argue that it would be worth Arsenal spending money to improve Drayton Park and Holloway Road stations to enable greater capacity. How much to put escalators in Holloway Road? Even if it’s £5m it wouldn’t take long to get that back.
Banning standing was a knee-jerk response to hooliganism dressed up as ‘health and safety’ in the aftermath of the tragedy of Hillsborough. No one is suggesting going back to the days of huge open terraces with 20,000 people moving freely, and the potential danger that entails. We’ve moved on from that. But there’s no reason not to give people what they want.
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