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Bring back standing at football

Posted on 17 April 2009 | 2:04pm

Several days late, in the eyes of some, to the issue of football stadia.

Late, that is, if it is indeed the case that the twentieth anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy was the subject I should have been addressing a couple of days back, failure to do so having sparked something of a mini-riot on my Facebook page.

I was a journalist on the Sunday Mirror on the day of the disaster, that rare Saturday when newspapers had a real, enormous news story to cover. It was a horrible day. I was on the Daily paper at the time of other football stadia disasters, like Heysel, the Bradford City fire, the riots at Birmingham and elsewhere when football violence was rampant.

As far as I recall, it was a combination of these, and a general feeling that ‘something had to be done’ that led to the Taylor and Popplewell reports and, eventually, a general acceptance of all-seater stadia.

On the Hillsborough memorial events, I had considerable sympathy for Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, who found himself in something of a ‘damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t’ situation when he was heckled at Anfield. Given the enormity of the tragedy and the passions it continues to arouse, I think the government would have been criticised had there been no representative at the Anfield memorial itself. As the minister whose department has overall responsibility for sport, and as a Liverpudlian, albeit an Evertonian when it comes to football, he was the obvious person to be there.

He is also a very decent man who will have thought carefully about what to say, knowing that there would be some in the crowd for whom no words from anyone in authority will ever compensate for so many deaths.

This may not seem the right time to raise the issue of standing at football, but I for one hope that Andy Burnham is pressing for there to be something in the next Labour manifesto about it.

Thanks in part to the changes driven by some of the tragedies and incidents mentioned above, football grounds in Britain are far better than they were. Though there is no room for complacency, most police forces in most areas have hooliganism more or less under control.

The question is whether the progress has been sufficient for the debate at least to be opened about whether there can be a return to an acceptance of standing at football.

In many grounds, there already is. Look at most away ends in the Premiership, and you will see it has become the norm to stand. Some clubs continue to push very hard to implement the all-seater policy, and while that is the law, one can see why.

But the rare incidents of violence I have witnessed this year have tended not to be between rival supporters, but between fans and the stewards and police trying to make them sit.

I sit at home games, but prefer to stand at away games. Usually a general mood will develop around kick-off time so that sometimes we sit, sometimes we stand. People who do not follow football will wonder why on earth I am even bothering to write about it, but to many who do follow football, it is an issue. It is hard to explain why it matters, and I’m not pretending it matters as much as the economy, the environment, or public services, but it does matter to some, and it is worth the main parties having a ponder about it.

Provided a way can be found for those who want to sit to sit, and those who want to stand to  stand, it ought to be one of those ‘everyone happy’ situations so rare in politics; and if it worked, another memorial in a way, testimony to lessons having been learned.

  • Matt

    Why though, why is it needed and are we sure we won’t see a return to fencing, it works in Germany but I wouldn’t allow a kid of mine to stand, i stood on the Kop before it was gone and I prefer seating to standing, not so big games it’s fine but some grounds still haven’t adapted with the small tunnels that lead to the stands.

    Mind you maybe it is time, I just find them ugly and a reminder of the past, and that can be pretty painful.

  • Judith Haire

    I see that standing up at football matches is not in itself unsafe provided there is the space for it.I don’t believe there can be a return to an acceptance of standing in our present circumstances. Where is the money going to come from? A lot of the new stadia have been purposely built for all seating. A lot of re modelling would have to go on, to accommodate SAFE standing areas in stadia. I can’t see football chairmen standing for that. You can’t just have people standing in seating areas, there would not be enough exits. Every fan would need a ticket for his/her own standing area in front of a seat and as Germany seems to lead the way in “safe standing” we could have a handrail in front of each seat too. It is all well and good to say hooliganism is under control but can we be sure? Ive seen clashes between rival fans it’s not all about clashes with stewards! You’d need more stewards if more fans stood. I’ve sat and I’ve stood and I prefer to sit at a match….I know standing goes on but surely the arrival of the all seater stadia has changed the face of football for the good. It has allowed very small children to go to matches where they can be safely seated. When people stand even in so called safe surroundings it is easier for them to start trouble than if they are seated. What’s so special about standing?

  • Alina Palimaru

    I usually watch snippets of European league games on whatever foreign network happens to cover them. I remember one American commenter pointing out how English fans were sitting during a game and he interpreted that as a sign of ‘civilization’ as well as a good way to prevent violent outbreaks. I don’t know if that is the case, this was his observation.

    I once asked a fellow student who was from England about the seating policy and he explained that some people were put off by it and as a result they were going to fewer games than they otherwise would have. Interestingly, he added that another factor that discourages people from supporting their local teams is the fact that they are not that ‘local’ anymore. The example he gave was of some team which was comprised 100% of foreign players bought from other foreign clubs. He said this was not a fair game anymore, so he dismissed the league altogether. Extreme, I know, but I thought it worth mentioning, since we’re on the topic.

  • Neil McIntyre

    “I had considerable sympathy for Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, who found himself in something of a ‘damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t’ situation when he was heckled at Anfield.”

    I’m sorry Alastair, but I’ve yet to hear anyone damn the Queen or Royal family for only sending condolences via a card. This was a memorial service, not a political rally. He shouldn’t have gone there. And he, of all people – as you rightly point out, should have known not to try to use the emotion of the people of Liverpool as a political platform.

  • Em

    Facebook riot? Oh, for heaven’s sake. Three days ago you were complaining about journalists using the word “crisis” to describe a minor setback…

    Today’s entry fascinated the student of anthropology in me — and I say this without an once of irony or mockery. Yes, the sitting/standing issue is utterly foreign to a neophyte but I’m not one to tell other people what should be important to their lives. Is the proposal to make it part of Labour’s manifesto a joke? The micro-managing aspects of politics in the U.K. will never cease to amaze me…

  • Matthew Cain

    I thought Burnham’s speech was largely good and well-judged and it was received like that in the main. However, a government minister has not previously attended the memorial and with nothing new to offer, I’m not sure why he chose to attend this one.

    I’d much rather Labour activists pushed for a full investigation of Hillsborough (rather than the judicial scrutiny fudge) than the return of ‘safe standing’.

  • Mike Barlow

    I think Andy Burnham got a less than appreciate welcoming, is due to the injusticethat the families/friends/victims of Hillsborough suffer, due to no judicial inquiry into the event ever yet surfacing.

    From a Government whose policies were meant to abandon the elitism and protectionism of those who had something to hide, open government I think it is monikered, it is quite unbelievable that no such review is yet forthcoming.

    The best thing Mr Burnham could do, or have done, is to stand up and state his wholehearted support for said review and to push for it, publicly, as hard as he could.

    That is presuming of course, that he believes one should be held. I don’t know about that…I am assuming he doesn’t else one would be forthcoming…wouldn’t it?

    That a Tory rag should have been judge, jury and executioner on the matter, is an irony that no Labour government should really ignore…..where is the working man’s Labour, when you really need them?


  • Ian Eastwood

    Absolutely. The times I have spent at away ground repeatedly standing up, for many reasons. (but like you I prefer standing up at away grounds and sitting at home games.) To be told to sit down again I can’t count… Take Derby V Burnley you were there. We were up and down like a brides nighty and the only crowd problems were with the over officious stewards but that’s another story.
    I saw you next to a lady of a certain age who must have been fed up with her view being interrupted by this and I sympathise with people who just want to sit and watch the match.
    It’s not rocket science just separate the two elements safely. Modern stadiums are constructed far better these days and could incorporate a standing area if supervised correctly with no problem.
    I believe this would also bring back some of the atmosphere and crowds that has been lost at many grounds. The reason the tragedy happened at Hillsborough were many and complex but to ban standing at all grounds was over top. How many Liverpool fans do you see standing up? LOADS.
    P.S I have a spare seat at Turf Moor JH upper if you ever need one.

  • John Cheyne

    Standing areas generate more atmosphere. That is a fact. The safety issues that were addressed by the Taylor report, were a big step forward in helping to modernize the game, but they have also partly sanitized it. Of course as soon as we start talking about football there is an assumption made by the media that we are in fact talking about the English Premier League. Perhaps this is an issue that would be better addressed by looking at smaller clubs as a starting point. There is a case to be made for smaller clubs to be the ones to blaze a trail of introducing new, SAFE, standing areas. I’m no expert on the whole stadium safety issues but I believe that before competing in European competitions, clubs must pass a UEFA safe ground check. Obviously Germans grounds manage to pass this inspection so there must be rules in place that UEFA feel make a standing area safe. If we can organize safe standing areas at concerts, I don’t see why we can’t do the same at football grounds.

  • Adam Shepphard

    Your recent visit to the Cougars will no doubt of highlighted the respect shown to rugby leauge fans and the assupmtion they posess enough intellect and dignity to stand at sporting grounds without endnagering their or others safety. A similiar prinicpal applied to the consumption of alchol, whereby I can watch the Challenge Cup final at Wembley and drink a pint of lager from the comfort of me seat, but if I where to attend an FA Cup semi-final this weekend I would not be able to.

    For an example of fans sitting and standing in the stadia, look no further than the GPW Recruitment stadium or as it will always be known, Knowsley Road in St.Helens. Whilst hardly a shining example of modern sporting stadia in any way, provisions exist to accommodate both those wishing to sit and stand.

  • Terry Evans

    As somebody who watches a lot of football I think it is about time that safe standing areas are introduced. At the moment a lot of standing happens in areas of the ground that are not suitable for standing, yet it continues. If a way can’t be found to ensure that people sit in the seats provided, then make the environment more suitable for standing. Incidentally we’ve been told that in our new ground next season that anybody breaching the all seating policy will lose their season ticket on a 3 strikes and out basis. (My club are Cardiff City.)

  • Jane A

    I don’t think this is an inappropriate time to raise this – memorials such as Hillsborough offer a chance for people to remember, reflect, consider, and maybe reconsider. While people are thinking around seating vs standing, it seems a good time to raise it.

    I am a bit biased. I watched football from very young standing. I was usually hoisted up to watch, and on many occasions perched on a crush barrier to see more. I liked the push and rush of the crowd aligned to the ebb and flow on the pitch. When I was teenage, we got stand seats, because my dad (14 years before Hillsboro) worried we weren’t always within his reach.

    Now, I’d probably sit. Not because of the risk, but because I am 5’4″ and if I stood, I’d see next to nothing. But I strongly feel if people want to -and if they are tall enough- they should. Hell, if we banned everything potentially unsafe, no one would cross a road to get into a ground.

    Anyway, thats a personal view. Not meant to offend anyone, least of all people with Hillboro’ connections.

  • James

    Obviously Alastair has been watching Andy Burnham but not listening to him.

    There will not be a return to standing at matches. And the FA say it too. After all, who wants to be the politician/official who gives it the go ahead with the nagging doubt in their head that they cannot guarantee people’s safety to the same degree they can with seated arenas?

    Let’s also not forget that Lord Justice Taylor was not told to get rid of standing – he suggested it as a measure to ensure that tragedies like Hillsborough have less chance of ever happening again. It was the only report we can claim with any amount of certainty was neutral on the subject from the start.

    And if the atmosphere is poor at seated stadia it is not down to the seats – that’s because you have c*ap fans who can’t be bothered singing.

    I’ve been to plenty of stadiums with standing areas where the atmosphere was little better than a Sunday league game. I’ve been to plenty of seated ones where the atmosphere was electric. It has little to do with inanimate objects like seats and more to do with the animation and passion of the fans.

    And in any case the Labour Party has bigger issues to tackle anyway. If it is in our manifesto, I really will think we’ve lost the plot.

    Finally, when someone says “that is a fact” (without any actual evidence) I can’t help thinking they are actually David Brent.

  • CPW

    AC always offers observations but no insight. Not a want of good intentions on his part but intelligence.

    Football lacks atmosphere not because the terraces have gone but because football fans have no idea what purpose football serves in the community. Hillsborough was indicative of English football and the malaise at the heart of English life in general – a heedlessness and selfishness that was a product of the 80s and succeeding governments have never addressed.

    Witness England vs Ukraine this month at Wembley. A minute’s silence went unobserved by home fans for the dead at the game on the Ivory Coast. Ironically, during the match there was 90 min silence observed as the fans failed to find a chant. I guess if 22 black folks haven’t been crushed to death there isn’t much to shout about.

    Sport and recreation in general is a celebration of camaraderie and community. However, there has to be a community to celebrate. Thatcher destroyed it. NL compounded the problem.

  • Wibble Wobble

    I’m glad you’re bringing this up, but I think the first thing that needs doing is to rebut the lies about standing for a start, and that will take some years. Once that is done, then make the case for standing to be returned to the top two divisions. That’s the problem with the way the whole standing issue is discussed; it’s trying to do two things at once. Play the long game. Otherwise the real debate never happens.

  • Jane A

    Off subject I know, but Alastair has been shortlisted for the MIND Champion of the Year 2009 in recognition of his work raising awareness, and decreasing stigma, around mental health issues. This prestigious award has previously been awarded to Melvyn Bragg, Liz Miller, and Stephen Fry.

    To join the facebook group supporting his nomination,

    To vote direct:

    Whatever people’s political views, this is a major area of discrimination which Alastair has been adept in addressing and deserves recognition for. Please vote for him.

    Sorry for gatecrashing the standing-at-football space ; posted on my height vs inclination issues below 🙂

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire

    Toasting Alastair Campbell with a glass of champagne here. Because I see today you have just been short-listed to win the Mind Champion of the Year award, congratulations, sir

    I presume you will win by a landslide, but I’ve cast my vote in your favour, all the same

    Besides, the award winner will be announced in London on Thursday 14th May. And hey, that’s only 11 days before you celebrate your birthday on 25th May, surely? Ideal for a double celebration, then

    Can you reassure fundraising supporters that Mind’s expectations of you remain modest and realistic, please? Otherwise, they might interfere with what remains the main charitable commitment closest to your heart, ie raising funds for Leukaemia Research. That’s the way it should be

    I presume collecting the Mind Champion of 2009 award entails you posing for publicity shots. Maybe alongside CommCare cases who escaped the NHS psychiatric system

    Would these include past award winners like Stephen Fry and Dr Liz Miller, plus Mind President, Melvyn Bragg, even bubbly Ruby Wax? Most of whom you must surely have shaken hands with before. Thus proving, whatever the Madness is, it can’t be that contagious, can it?

    Besides, gifting each celebrity a signed copy of “Tout est dans La Tete”, on camera, should ensure your novel, “All in the Mind”, reaches the attention of the wider audience its story, content and treatment deserve

    Most media photo-ops are best treated as booksales boosters nowadays, anyway

    Warmly, from Trevor Malcolm in Portsmouth Hampshire, with my compliments


  • Stephen Smith

    I sometimes yearn for the return of terraces, which is where I watched the majority of my football earlier in my life. It’s not going to happen though.

    With every person in a seat it is far easier to avoid overcrowding, to identify any areas where trouble is occurring, and identify the culprits, and generally to give the impression that the event is a form of entertainment which has more in common with a theatre or cinema than with a public execution.

    In the old days if a few hundred away supporters turned up in the home enclosure, the police and stewards (if there were any) just escorted them out and shoved them in the right enclosure – never mind whether they fitted in or not. With all seaters that’s not so easy – you need to reserve space for this likelihood.

    There isn’t as much atmosphere and excitement now as there was, or should I say – it takes a lot more to get it going – but the same could be said of hangings at Tyburn – and I don’t think we’ll be bringing those back any time soon.

    I loved the terraces at Huddersfield, and have visited the ones at your beloved Burnley – which were similar – but be honest – They were pretty grim at times.

  • sean lee

    it’s high time football clubs had the option to inroduce standing areas germany france spain and lower league english and scotish clubs can do it with no problems why cant the epl and spl.