It is a common misnomer when the stands at football matches are described in this day and age as “the terraces”. I always take it as a sign that the person making the point knows little or nothing about the game given that terraces are pretty much non-existent in the upper echelons of British football.
The only terraces in British football are those now confined to celluloid. In a collection of the esteemed photographer Harry Benson’s work I have at home he captured the sweeping bowl of the old Hampden Park. The sheer multitude of people captured in that one image always takes me aback. The same goes for any photos I see of any of the great stadia in their heyday; the Clock End at Highbury, the Stretford End at Old Trafford and most famously the Kop at Anfield, they are all uniformlymassive, packed seething walls of humanity.
However, while these stadia may have been vocally and visually imposing, they were also inherently dangerous. The date of 15 April 1989 and the name Hillsborough forever changed British football. The day 96 Liverpool fans died needlessly at their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest signalled a sea change in the way in which football stadiums would be designed in this country.
Gone went terraces constructed on massive slopes and railway sleepers, the crash barriers which were grimly dubbed crush barriers were consigned to the scrap heap. The horrendous pens which helped contribute a terrible deal to the crushing in the Leppings Lane end at Hillsborough were outlawed. In the aftermath of the disaster, Lord Justice Taylor recommended that by 1994 every club in the top two divisions of English football must have all seated stadia.
The ruling changed the landscape of British football, figuratively and metaphorically. The great standing terraces were no more while many famous grounds were closed as teams moved to identikit, out of town bowls. The common wisdom was that the era of the all seater stadium had arrived.
It is impossible to argue against the emotional reasoning behind the call for seating only arenas in British football. I got in contact with the chairwoman of Hillsborough Families Support Group, Margaret Aspinall. Margaret, who lost her eighteen year old son at the disaster, directed me towards her recent comments in the press about the prospect of standing returning to football. Speaking of a forthcoming letter from the Group, she says “I will be putting my point across to all the clubs that our group – not just me but the vast majority of families – completely oppose any form of standing. People have a right to argue for it, that’s their opinion. But I think the families have more of a right to argue against it because we have lost our loved ones”. She carries on, stating “I think if you ask any mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister would you rather have your loved one safe at a football match sitting down or taking chances at bringing back standing? I think you will get the same answer I have given you”. John Pearman, the editor of the long-standing Liverpool fanzine Red All Over The Land, echoes views which will no doubt be similar to many from around Merseyside; “My personal view is it shouldn’t be considered and that’s probably because I’m a Liverpool supporter and give my full support to the various Hillsborough Justice campaigns and the people who work tirelessly on behalf of those who perished on 15 April 1989. I couldn’t support those good people and want a return to terracing”.
The position of the families who lost relatives at Hillsborough is quite rightly and understandably unlikely to ever change. However, there is a growing body in football circles who would like to see standing return, albeit in a different form.
The chief executive of Manchester United Ed Woodward told a fanzine that the club would consider the reintroduction of standing while his Celtic counterpart Peter Lawell has also voiced approval. In a recent survey of one thousand Aston Villa supporters 97.5% of the fans who were asked said they would like to see some form of standing section reintroduced at Villa Park. A more sizeable survey conducted by the Football Supporters Federation, a keen and key proponent of the campaign to reintroduce terracing, which canvassed some four thousand supporters showed that 92% would like to see standing return.
Why the demand for the return of standing sections? There are a number of reasons. Nostalgia is one. Many of the large terraces were the traditional home ends; seating split up these choirs which some observers cite as the reason for the often hum-drum atmosphere at matches. In the place of spontaneous and witty noise came the endless refrain of Tom Hark from a public address system. Cost also appears to be one of the main reasons; tickets for standing sections across Europe are much cheaper than seats and with the cost of football rising in Britain, many feel that affordable seating would attract back some of those lost to the game since the dawn of the Premier League. A fair point, however I still feel that Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United would still manage to charge your unwitting, unsuspecting day-tripper £75 for the pleasure of standing to watch a dire 1-0 win against Aldershot in the opening rounds of the League Cup.
The main reason often pointed to, and often cited by supporters of the campaign to reinstate standing, is the success such safe standing areas have enjoyed in the German leagues. I myself have stood on the safe standing sections at three Bundesliga arenas – Hamburg’s Imtech Arena, Cologne’s RheinEnergie Stadion and the Olympiastadion in Berlin – and as someone who is used to all seated areas in Britain it was a revelation.
Many campaigners cite the lack of safety in standing as one of the main reasons for the status quo to be maintained. However, these standing sections are far removed from the neo-Victorian installations which contributed to the loses of life at Ibrox and Hillsborough. They are achingly modern, the barriers are appropriately designed and ticketing arrangements are such that overcrowding is an unlikely possibility.
There is also the opportunity for rail seating, an option popular at many Bundesliga stadia. UEFA insist that matches in European competitions are played without standing seats. However, with the arrival of the rail seat German fans are able to stand for the Bundesliga and sit for the Champions Europa League. Such seating will soon arrive in Britain, with Bristol City announcing in the past fortnight that they plan on bringing terracing back to Ashton Lane.
In an ideal world I for one would love to stand, bratwurst in hand, and enjoy the Bundesliga experience without having to resort to Ryanair depositing me in a glorified military airstrip somewhere near Frankfurt. However, there is evidently a large amount of emotive history behind the campaignto ensure that standing remains a thing of the past. Pearman makes several points, suggesting that standing will encourage a return to the loutish behaviour which blighted British football during the era of terracing, citing the example of a lifelong Liverpool supporter not going to away matches on account of the behaviour of the club’s away support. While I believe that sitting or standing, morons will still be morons, the very image of a terracing pulls the sub conscious chords of negative connotations within the general population. However, it should be noted that the man who attacked Neil Lennon at Tynecastle, the Leeds United fan who attacked Sheffield Wednesday goal keeper Chris Kirkland and those who invaded the pitch at Upton Park during the notorious West Ham United and Millwall clash of 2009 all sprung forth from seated sections not terracing.
The Taylor Report did change British football . It provided a much needed impetus to improve the football grounds of this country and give supporters a facility which is befitting, better than the death traps which were shamefully allowed to endure in British football for far too long. It also sought to phase out the notion of standing at football matches.
However, I ask you to watch Match of The Day and look at the ends behind the goal. The Kop at Anfield still stands. The Holte End at Villa Park, the Stretford End and at countless grounds across the country are still populated by people who stand to watch football, albeit in seated sections.
I suspect with the current momentum behind it that it will be more of a case of when rather than if one can choose whether one wants to watch football from a bucket seat or from the expanse of a modern and thoroughly 21st century standing section.