Standing sections at football stadia in the top-flight of English football have been outlawed since 1993, when the Taylor Report which looked into the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 decided that it was the safest way forward to ensure there was no repeat of the terrible scenes.
96 Liverpool fans went to a football match and never came home, as people piled into an unsafe pen, which was simply unfit for purpose. Never again could such tragic scenes be allowed to be replicated, hence why the measures were brought in.
Now, though, safe standing at Celtic Park, home of former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and his Scottish champions, has been so successful that clubs in England, such as Shrewsbury Town and West Bromwich Albion, are pushing for trials to be allowed at their grounds, with many fans of all clubs recipient of the suggestion that standing sections should make a return.
3000 rail seats at Celtic Park have seen an improved atmosphere in the stadium, and standing is commonplace in countries like Germany where the match-going experience is generally considered superior to in England (albeit for reasons such as ticket prices, too), but that really is secondary to the main advantage: safety.
It is very simple: standing sections today are not the same as what they were in the past. In decades gone by, standing sections were dangerous, but new rail seats mean it is very much a case of safe standing by name; safe standing by nature.
No one should be forced to accept standing at football matches against their wishes, but the key word in the debate is safe standing. Reintroducing standing sections in football stadia would not signal a return to the dark ages where as many people as possible would be forced into small areas not large enough to house them – there are very clear spaces designated for each spectator.
In fact, standing up using the rail seats proposed is safer than the current model, where people stand up in their seats regardless, off balance as they are cramped into tiny spaces barely big enough to fit their legs.
As soon as the ball crosses the halfway line, many fans will stand up, meaning all those around them have to as well, and standing in the cramped spaces designed for sitting down is more dangerous than standing in a safe zone designed for people to do just that.
The current model is not comfortable for spectators, and means children, or those shorter than the person in front of them, might not be able to see at key moments.
Whether you prefer to sit or stand when at the match, it would be safer to have a designated space for both. Those who feel strongly against the system would simply be able to sit just as they used to, whilst those who prefer to stand would be able to as well – having the choice is fundamental.
Liverpool should lead the way
Liverpool are heavily connected to the lack of standing areas in this country now, due to the Hillsborough disaster, which could have happened to any team. No one would disagree that Liverpool fans that day were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we have to respect them.
That 96 fans, through no fault of their own, lost their lives when they were supposed to be enjoying an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield in 1989, is abhorrent, but the scenario would be very different now.
Football grounds – and, crucially, the health and safety measures in place – are thankfully completely different places now to what they were then. Even before Hillsborough, football grounds were not considered the safest places in a time when health and safety had yet to be thought up, but the disaster made certain that changes took place.
It is, of course, right that the decision was made to stop standing sections back when they were unsafe, but when the time is right to address safe standing, Liverpool should be the ones to lead the debate.
The club say they will “listen to fan’s views” on the matter, and club supporter’s group Sprit of Shankly (SOS) held an “emotive and sensitive” debate just last week. The results of their vote among Liverpool fans as to whether they are in favour of safe standing or not will be published early next week.
The situation is clearly an emotive one in the city as a whole, making any debate complex, but talking about the matter is important. Educating people on what safe standing is like might make people who have reservations think twice.
One option spoken about at Anfield would be to name the standing area ‘Section 96’, as a memorial to the 96 people who lost their lives at Hillsborough. The message would be clear: we have learned from the mistakes of the past; standing now is not the same as it was back then.
This is not a case of disregarding those who lost their lives, but is merely a continuation of the work to make attending football matches even safer.
However we proceed in the debate, all match-going fans should be able to make an informed decision, and it is only right that Liverpool are right at the forefront of any consultation.