The Premier League. It is the most exciting, dramatic, most watched league in the world, yet if you go to a Premier League match the atmosphere in comparison to most other places in Europe is very subdued and tame. In recent years, the possible introduction of rail seated safe standing sections in grounds has become more likely than ever and serious bids, protests and campaigns have been put forward to address the predominantly poor atmospheres. This is because of recent success across Germany and at Scotland’s Celtic Park ground, where a 2,600 capacity designated standing area was installed only last Summer. However, the debate is undoubtedly a controversial one, considering previous standing-related disasters in English football history.
Success in Germany:
Critics have argued that the German Bundesliga, in terms of a fan experience, is as close to perfect as you will find. Cheap beer (allowed in the seats) cheap ticket prices and fantastically deafening chants from the fans contribute to the creation of a high-adrenaline atmosphere. This means that German football is accessible to all, regardless of income, and does away with the economic divide of rich and poor, often experienced by many Premier League fans. Not only that, but instead of a library-like atmosphere the stadium comes to life, driven on by the immense passion from the loyal supporters that elevates a single match into a football experience. One example is Borussia Dortmund’s iconic yellow wall. The stand holds 25,000 standing supporters who continuously sing their hearts out for their team, jump up and down, wave flags, herald huge banners urging their team on and becoming a living embodiment of an amazing footballing experience, both visually and emotionally. It is this unique experience that prompts many to claim, ”It’s on my bucket list to go to a Dortmund match and stand in the yellow wall.” It seems staggering just why so many people would say this, but I believe the answer lies in the fan experience. It is one in complete contrast to that experienced in our own Premier League grounds; where no longer are standing fans demonised but embraced and encouraged for their passion and true footballing spirit.
The end of the sitter vs stander conflict:
In every stadium in the Premier League there is an area where it is unofficially tolerated to stand in front of your seat. However, there is often a divide between the fans standing up and people behind who want to sit down whose view of the game becomes restricted. One such example is West Ham’s migration into the London stadium. As a West Ham fan, going to Upton Park for many years before the move, I knew there were certain areas for standing up for the match and certain areas where fans would remain seated throughout. Unfortunately, officials seemed not to take this debate into consideration upon moving to the London Stadium and passionate lifelong standers found themselves lumped in with the more restrained seated fans. This oversight has been a major source of conflict and has seen fellow United fans fighting amongst themselves, prompted by the poor seating strategy of the club. So much so, the standing fan-base regularly chant, ”We’re West Ham United, we’ll never sit down.” Arguably, had officials recognised the true passion of the standing fans and their desire to get to their feet and get behind their team and created a designated standing section of the ground, such tensions could have been avoided. Safe standing sections would eliminate the whole sitter v stander issue and clearly improve the matchday experience for all supporters; whatever side of the fence they sit or stand on.
Historical controversy of standing:
There have been numerous football disasters due to terraced standing, but foremost in people’s minds would be the devastating Hillsborough disaster of 1989, where 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives. The travesty resulted in all stadiums in the top tier becoming all seater stadiums. The raw emotional and sensitive nature of the topic is still apparent today with current Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and Hillsborough campaigners firmly opposed to the introduction of safe standing. Their reservations are understandable, especially when considering how many people knew fans at that football match in 1989 who never returned home. Their argument supports the belief that nothing can be safer than all seater stadiums and that supporters’ security shouldn’t be put at jeopardy for the sake of an improvement in atmosphere.
My personal view:
I am personally fully behind the introduction of safe standing. I do comprehend the arguments against its introduction but with rail seating fans cannot fall on top of each other and cannot be crushed. Atmosphere for me, as part of a matchday experience, is the most important part of football and you wouldn’t travel the country watching Portsmouth in League two for the quality of football if it wasn’t for the passion of the fans. In my slightly biased opinion, I don’t really get the point in going to matches if you’re not going to stand and join in singing your heart out for your beloved team. You might as well watch the match on television or stream it. I’ve been called a ‘yob’, a ‘hooligan’ , and a ‘thug’ for standing up and supporting my team. Why does the media, the Premier League and it’s stewards demonise and stigmatise the fans who want to stand on our feet whilst getting behind our teams? Many can see change is needed as going to a Premier League football match today isn’t what football should be about; daytrippers, people on their phones during the match, popcorn munchers, selfie takers, facetimers are all apparent in modern football. So why can’t the Premier League take a step back to it’s roots and do something for the fans for a change. It’s what the majority wants, 90% of supporters according to the FSF National Supporters survey back the introduction of safe standing. The improvements are essential to promoting the safety and harmony of supporters countrywide.
What do you make of this topic? Do you share these views? Let us know in the comments below!