Fans are hoping a successful safe standing trial involving Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Cardiff City next year will bring the atmosphere back to stadiums, writes Laura Lawrence.
There are 96 white seats on the lower tier of the West Stand at Hillsborough. They contrast with the royal blue that surround them for a reason. They are a reminder of the lives that were lost in 1989. On the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, a red rose is placed on each white seat to remember every Liverpool fan who died that day. Hopefully an extra seat will be added soon for Andrew Devine, the 97th victim of the tragedy.
No football stadium is as stringently monitored and audited as Hillsborough with regards to health and safety. Sheffield Wednesday quickly turned the whole stadium into all-seater after the Taylor Report and the ground has had its capacity reduced significantly, and some might say too cautiously.
All-seater stadiums are a legacy of perceived safety issues. Protection from poorly designed stadia, unprepared security and policing and, of course, the age of hooliganism.
Does it still apply in these days of newly-built stadia, focused football policing and minimal acts of hooliganism within the grounds?
From January 1st, 2022, five clubs will take part in a safe standing pilot. Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Cardiff City have been granted licences to operate safe standing sections within their grounds.
The Guardian have reported that Liverpool are conducting their own pilot which will involve safe standing but only at “particular moments of excitement of the game”. Not entirely sure what this constitutes because rarely do you see a supporter sitting still with their hands neatly in their lap when their team is through on goal. The demand to stand is clearly there.
It’s pleasing to see this being piloted. It’s been proven, in a report by England’s Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), that safe standing had an effect on fan behaviour and reduced the risk of fans collapsing on each during celebrations and that “there has been very little conflict as a result of standing”.
What it could bring back is atmosphere to stadiums. Too many bowl-built grounds lack the ability to generate noise, singing or pleasure. There is something about standing on a terrace. Waves of excitement that build the tension and enjoyment. Grounds that have seating and standing areas provide choice for supporters to enjoy the game as they want to experience it. The safety has been tested elsewhere. I hope the pilots discover the same.
Standing on the Leppings Lane end did not kill the 97 Liverpool supporters in 1989. Opening the gates, ineptitude and containing fans in steel pens like cattle did.
I hope that Sheffield Wednesday and Hillsborough will be allowed to move forward too.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR