All rise for safe standing
This morning I signed a petition which I’ll link to at the bottom of this piece. It was a petition to raise the issue of introducing safe standing to Premier League and Championship football grounds within parliament. This petition comes as a response to Sports Minister Tracey Crouch rejecting West Brom's application to integrate safe standing at The Hawthorns. On April 9th, the proposal of over 3,000 safe standing seats was discarded, followed by an affirmation that the government has no plans to change the current all-seater policy.
Here's the thing. There doesn't seem to be any particularly good reason anymore for the government to take such a stance.
Obviously, when the policy was introduced it was impossible to argue against. The all-seater law was enforced following the Taylor Report, which investigated the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. At that time the move to an all-seater system was definitely necessary and has almost certainly played a big part in avoiding similar tragedies since then.
We've come a long way since 1989 though. So far in fact that we've come up with a system for safe standing. Safe being the key word.
Unlike in the old days when barriers on football terraces were somewhat few and far between, safe standing provides a barrier between every single row of fans. This is intended to make surging and crushing just as impossible as it is in an all-seater stadium. A more in-depth report on the merits and safety of safe standing can be found here.
This stuff has been trialled too. Celtic introduced a safe standing section at Celtic Park in 2016 - a decision Brendan Rodgers said he believes has created a "better ambience" on match days. He then adjusted his tie, bit his lip and told the reporter to 'shoot' with his next question. Probably.
Let's not allow Brendan's inherent Brent-ishness to undermine our argument here though.
A safe standing project has also been given the green light in the football league - which operates outside of the restrictions placed upon the upper two tiers of the English pyramid. Shrewsbury Town hope to have a safe standing section installed in time for next season.
Assuming then that safe standing really is safe, given that all of the - admittedly limited - evidence for this we've managed to gather so far suggests that it really is, we still have to ask if it's a change worth making. After all, replacing thousands of seats in Premier League and Championship grounds won't come cheap. Then there’s the other point Brendan Rodgers raised, that safe standing "may not be for every club".
It's not for all fans either, but that's why no one is suggesting replacing all seats with safe standing. Far from it. Small sections of standing fans can have massive benefits, though. For a start, if you do want sit down, but the fan in front of you insists on standing - there'll be a whole new separate area for them to stand. Away from you.
What's more, standing tickets will be cheaper. They'd simply have to be. No fan would pay the same as everyone else only to then be deprived of a seat. This will get more currently priced-out fans into the grounds. These will be young fans, perfectly happy to stand, that will ensure that the club always has a next generation of devoted followers.
Finally, the big'un: atmosphere. There is an overwhelming consensus that standing fans improve the atmosphere in football stadiums. For proof, look no further than the Bundesliga, where safe standing has already been introduced by the likes of Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund (within the famous "yellow wall").
Arsène Wenger recently stated that for this reason he'd give his "100% backing" to standing proposals "if safety is right". When your office is the Emirates, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Anyway, that's why I signed the petition. Not because I believe safe standing should immediately be installed in every top flight ground, but because I think we should absolutely be open minded to exploring its potential further.
As promised, here is the petition link. Sign away.