Beyond The Touchline – Safe Standing

It took just two pre-season games to recall how much fun it was to watch a game from the terraces.

The first was a trip to East Grinstead to watch a Palace youth team take on the ‘GAC’ sponsored non-league team from West Sussex. It was an evening game and the weather was kind. Being able to stand at the game if you wished and even to wander around the pitch during the ninety minutes was enjoyable.

It was also interesting to hear what the coaches and players were saying even among the hefty crowd that did turn out. It was a very different experience and not one that many Palace fans will be able to recall from competitive football in any previous season.

The second game was once again in West Sussex. The trip to Crawley Town by what was a more recognisable Palace side to take on a League One team that was just a week away from their season starting. The Palace faithful gathered at one end in a three or four step terrace which had just the one bar at the front to lean on. It was pretty full and the atmosphere was fantastic.

Memories came flooding back in the days that followed. Fondly recalling many a time I had stood on a terrace to support my beloved Palace. The late great terrace on the Holmesdale with the old shed at the top offering score and goal scorer odds. Fans turning up at different times finding their usual ‘spot’ on the terrace.

 

It was very different to what we experience at games these days. Very different indeed.

 

I could go on to list several games that I can remember in my time on the terrace that only enhanced the enjoyment – Man City, Watford, Liverpool to name but a few. An absolutely packed out terrace which, in hindsight, many would say was a disaster waiting to happen. And of course it was.

All top level stadia in the United Kingdom are all seater. It is now deemed the safest way to manage large crowds. There are many instances where fans prefer to stand but stewarding will not allow. Fans have been thrown out of ground for not sitting down due to safety. It is suggested that over sixty thousand fans stand in front of their seats at games every weekend. That alone suggests that changes are needed.

I do question, why football? Music events and festivals have similar attendences. The majority gigs have standing areas and on similar or bigger scales than any terrace used to hold or at least when we had them that is. It took a disaster to change things and not for the good of the game in its entirety. But while nothing has happened on that scale at a gig or festival in this country, should it mean that nothing is done to prevent such ever happening? This approach seems to be a common theme in life.

 

Football has always been and always will be treated differently. The shadow of violence hangs over its head like an ill-fitting hoodie.

 

There is a potential solution to the problem on the horizon if clubs and the body that runs it have the inclination and the balls to change things for the fans who are crying out for the terrace to return in some form or other. While fans can harp on like I have and pine for a return of the old concrete terrace, it is just never going happen. Certainly not in the top divisions anyway. But there is hope and a viable option, the campaign for which is gathering speed by the Football Supporters Federation (FSF).

The Safe Standing Campaign run by the FSF is to highlight the case of safe standing to all relevant authorities, clubs and politicians. There are plenty of clubs on board already while others have agreed to explore the safe standing trials.

So what is safe standing? It would fill this article to explain so all you need to know is here, explained in detail by the FSF.

To give you a brief flavour of what it is and how it could change the game for supporters, you haven’t got to look very far at all. There are several different models of safe standing already in practice across Europe particularly in Germany, Sweden and Austria while standing is deemed safe in the United Kingdom in League One and below.

You only have to look at the AWD Arena in Hannover, AOL Arena in Hamburg, Wörthersee Stadion in Klagenfurt and the Volkswagon Stadium in Wolfsburg to see what safe standing looks like. There are plenty of other examples in Europe but none bigger that at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund and the Südtribüne, the south end of the stadium known as the Yellow Wall. It is Germany’s largest stadium and holds 80,552 with 24,454 in the standing area alone, the largest in Europe.  It is and has been in use for a while now which suggests no trial period for introduction would be necessary.

 

 

There is a stadium much closer to home that use a model, a little different to those already mentioned, but it is safe standing all the same. Croke Park in Dublin which has the new modern version of the old terrace that fans will recognise.

 

 

The early signs are good with Manchester United agreeing to look at the possibility of introducing safe standing areas at Old Trafford as have Celtic at Celtic Park, both following pressure from fan groups. There are 25 English clubs that already support the campaign to introduce areas of safe standing at grounds across the country and Crystal Palace are one of those.

For clubs that have a realistic opportunity of European competition, the rail seat model is the most popular. It allows entire stands (or sections of a stand) to be easily converted from standing to seating and back again as and when required at no cost. This is the closest you are going to get to the old terrace experience as the seat flips down and on every row with a safety barrier in front. This model is particularly flexible.

For me, and I suspect a lot of football fans, safe standing is the answer and something that should be introduced throughout the country. We can learn a lot from the approach to football stadia in Europe where fans are key to the game. They even have a leading television producer voicing the campaign to keep football affordable for fans. Yes, that would be someone like Gary Lineker representing the fans but that is a subject for another day.

If fans want to stand then give us the option to stand. It appeals to the masses and is not only about freedom of choice but will likely encourage cheaper football as well. If a survey is carried out at the next Palace game at Selhurst Park then I am certain that enough would answer positively to fill the old Holmesdale Road terrace. And more perhaps.

Lend your support to the campaign by the FSF by visiting the site and also become a volunteer by emailing club and location to safestanding@fsf.org.uk.

Get involved! Tweet us your thoughts on the possible introduction of Safe Standing. Is it a good thing? Do you want it brought in?

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