Soapbox: from Arsenal to Yeovil, can we stand being made to sit?

To stand or not to stand. That’s the ‘question posed by Pete Sixsmith and countless other supporters. Manchester United fans complain about their Stadium of Light allocation being cut because of persistent refusal to sit; our own away support routinely stands at a number of grounds. It’s almost hit and miss as to whether stewards take action. Now, though, the tide may be turning …

The debate has moved on: there are now real moves to reintroduce standing at Premier League grounds. My faith in top level football, although not restored, is less hostile than it was.

We all know why standing was banned. A combination of Sheffield Wednesday’s indolence, South Yorkshire Police’s serious logistical failures and Sheffield City Council’s inability to carry out rudimentary inspections, led to the tragedy at Hillsborough 22 years ago.

As a result, the Taylor Report called for the introduction of all-seater stadiums and saw off some of our most famous and historic stadiums. Roker Park, Ayresome Park, Burnden Park, Leeds Road, all big grounds with long histories were deemed inadequate and replaced by shiny new all seaters.

Other famous stadiums were practically rebuilt (Goodison Park being the exception). White Hart Lane lost its Shelf, Anfield’s Kop became a neutered version of its Eee Aii Addio days and the Stretford End was assimilated into a huge stand at one end of the corporate gem that is Old Trafford.

We learnt to sit down and watch our football. There were those who accepted it, those who tolerated it and those who rebelled against it – but only at away games. But most of us understood the reasons behind the ban and as football fans we never wanted to see fences put up in front of us again.

After 20 years of enforced sitting down some of us older coves don’t mind that much. The knees are a little bit less giving, the feet get a little bit sorer and the back begins to play up if we stand for too long. Younger fans (below the magic age of 60) look back nostalgically to the crush of the Clock Stand Paddock or the fraternity of the Fulwell End, which East Stand Row 30, Seat 404 doesn’t quite have.

Standing is permitted at Division One and below. Clubs like Chesterfield, Morecambe and Yeovil have built new grounds with standing, but they have to convert to seats if they get into the Championship or above. It seems a tad unfair that a splendid stadium like Chesterfield’s will have to put seats in if they reach those dizzy heights.

But now we hear that the Government is considering allowing rail seating to be introduced into English stadiums. That’s the system that we saw in Hoffenheim’s new stadium on our pre season visit. The seats installed flip up and allow the spectator to stand. It seemed a wonderfully simple idea and it worked so well because the rake of the Necker Arena was built to allow this. Introducing a similar system into the North and South stands of the Stadium of Light, where its rake was specifically designed for seats, may be different.

Terraces can be made safe. Terrace culture has changed in that fans are used to being supervised and controlled and accept that it is necessary after the awful experiences of Heysel, Hillsborough and Valley Parade.

I would love to see standing brought back; younger folk would enjoy the banter that comes from people being huddled together, in Sunderland’s case, in adversity. Those of us who have made the game the bourgeois experience it is now, with its orchestrated singing and its lattes and paninis may not quite welcome a return to Bovril and proper singing. Would our Arsenal supporting chums Monty and Rupert have enjoyed the North Bank as much as they enjoy their cushioned seat at Ashburton Grove?

I stood last night at an enthralling Northern League Cup quarter Final tie between Shildon and Dunston UTS. It was 1-1 when the Shildon goalkeeper, Dan Staples, made a horrific blunder to gift Dunston the lead. We equalised just before the end of normal time and it went to extra time and then penalties.

You know what comes next; he made two stunning saves to go from zero to hero as the old cliché has it. Football in the raw – and none the worse for that. But boy, were my feet sore after over two hours of standing.

2 thoughts on “Soapbox: from Arsenal to Yeovil, can we stand being made to sit?”

  1. The Hillsborough tragedy was not down to standing but the fact that the tunnel into the Leppings Lane end acted as a funnel onto the terraces and the fences that had been erected allowed no opportunity to relieve the crush that occurred as hundreds poured into the ground as the game was kicking off.

    I had experienced that crush at Sheffield prior to this when I went with some Spurs supporting mates to their game there. I was physically lifted of my feet in that tunnel and only when I reached the terracing and the throng spread out sideways did I feel comfortable. Even now I wish I had written to the club and police about my experience – futile as that would have been in the political climate that existed then.

    Some of those grounds (eg. Anfield) where seats have been bolted onto former standing areas offer some spectators almost no view of the game at all and becuase of the numbered seats once there it is difficult to move to find a decent view unless you follow a team with no away support.

    We will never see the old days of packed terracing but sensible limits on the numbers allowed should ensure the safety of spectators. I too am now of an age (and height) where I prefer to sit, but one advantage of terraces is that you can go on the day with your friends and family and experience the game together. In these days of numbered seats unless you buy a job lot of tickets you have to say goodbye to your mates for the duration.

  2. I fear the Government (of any political hue) will never back down on this however strong the representations are. I’m an “oldie” who prefers to sit and am therefore fully supportive of fans having the choice.

    I see no real problem as a half-way house solution to clubs designating (with Safety Committee approval) a section of the seating area where fans are allowed to stand and another where they are obliged (except at monents of excitement) to sit. If necessary those choosing to stand could be required to sign a disclaimer that they would not hold the club responsible for any accident they suffered as a direct result of standing in the seated area.

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