As Parliament debates releasing all government documents regarding the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, it seems perverse to even contemplate the idea of reintroducing standing sections at football stadiums across England, but the time has come.
Given the nature of the modern game and the contemporary stadium designs, all-standing football grounds would not work – with historic disasters such as Hillsborough still a painful memory, the idea would never be entertained anyway. Yet, partial standing sections would give fans the best of both worlds ultimately creating a better atmosphere in stadiums up and down the country – and more importantly, it is a viable concept.
It would be naive to think that standing does not occur during matches in the present day, after all it is a well known fact that the majority of away fans stand for the whole 90 minutes of the game. We know this to be true because Manchester United fans had their ticket allocation cut by over 1000 for last weekend’s visit to Anfield. What was the reason given for this dramatic reduction? Persistent standing. It is not just Liverpool who have cut Manchester United’s ticket allocations, Manchester City have too again citing persistent standing as the reason. It clearly is not just Manchester United fans that stand during away matches though, ask any football fan who goes to watch their team play away from home, 9 times out of 10 they will tell you they stand.
Nowadays it is almost impossible to get into a stadium without a ticket, given the current technology. At the Etihad Stadium for example, fans without tickets will not be able to get through the turnstiles because the stadium’s technology simply will not let them. Irrespective of that, as the majority are now all-seater stadiums standing sections become a viable option as there is no way the issue of overcrowding can become a problem.
Again, using the Etihad Stadium as an example, a ‘singing section’ was created a few seasons ago in order to improve the flagging atmosphere that some fans recorded ever since the move from Maine Road to the City of Manchester Stadium. This ‘singing section’ is located adjacent to the away fans and usually results in the fans standing. Football fans are different creatures to human beings, it is virtually impossible for a football fan to really cheer on their team and sing whilst sat down, so it comes as no surprise that those in the ‘singing section’ at the Etihad Stadium stand.
Last weekend against Aston Villa however, things took a turn for the worse in the ‘singing section’ as an ageing Manchester City fan was physically assaulted by Police and Stewards after he refused to leave the stadium for standing. The harmless gentleman, who was seated when approached by the officials, was made an example of whilst those around him – and the away fans in the next block – stood. The brutality of the officials towards this gentleman created a sense of shock and anger amongst City fans in that section of the stand and prompted chaos and disorder as visibly annoyed fans leapt to the defence of man. The shocking scenes, which have been recorded and posted on YouTube, show Police and Stewards forcing the gentleman from his seat in their attempt to eject him from the stadium. In the process the man, who clearly states to the officials that he has heart problems, ends up collapsing on the stairs whilst being dragged out of his seat.
If managed correctly (and that means not condoning violence that some witnessed on Saturday), standing sections are a great way of improving atmosphere and matchday experiences. The layout of the stadium does not need to change for this to work, those situated in the standing sections would have a seat – they just wouldn’t use it.