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.