Yesterday, after heavy consultation, a number of safety reports and trials, and to the jubilation of football fans up and down the country, the Government finally confirmed that Premier League and Championship clubs who wish to introduce licensed safe standing areas will be allowed to do so from the start of the upcoming 2022/2023 season.
For the benefit of the non football-fans amongst readers – since 1994, clubs in the English Premier League and Championship have been required to provide all-seated accommodation, following the Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the Hillsborough disaster. This has rendered top-level English football a rather more sanitised affair than, say, the electric atmosphere of Dortmund’s yellow wall and other European stadiums which have successfully implemented safe standing.
Safety has long been the central concern. The horrendous Hillsborough disaster, in which 97 people died, has unsurprisingly left a heavy scar on communities in the UK. However, it’s important to note that, while the Taylor Report recommended a move to all-seater stadia, it did not actually blame standing itself for the tragedy; rather, it pointed the finger at failures by the police, and poor management of ticketing and crowd control.
Moreover, there will be no return to the old days of terracing – the fans who died at Hillsborough were in fenced-in ‘pens’ which had no safe minimum capacities. Advances in seating technologies remove this problem; for example, Germany predominantly uses rail seating which have rail barriers between each row to ensure that crushes are impossible. Clubs will also be able to use clip-on seats with removable crush barriers and foldaway seats.
Aside from the obvious fact that it is nonsensical to continue to ban something which has been made safe, introducing safe standing is hugely popular with fans. The Football Supporter’s Federation (FSF)’s National Supporters’ Survey found that 90% of fans back the choice to stand or sit. It appears that introducing safe standing also improves the experience for fans who do wish to remain seated, who may have previously found their view of the game impinged upon by over-excited viewers jumping to their feet – a potential area for conflict which was picked up on by the Sport Ground Safety Authority’s report.
Better still, introducing standing sections has the potential to cut the prices of tickets. By increasing capacity, clubs can turn over the same amount of total revenue with lower average ticket prices. European clubs with standing sections have far wider price gulfs between higher and lower priced tickets. A 2016 report by the Adam Smith Institute estimated that bringing the ratio between the cheapest and most expensive tickets in the Premier League to the standard of a top European football clubs which have standing sections could cut the price by 57% on average, making top-tier football a far more accessible sport.
Whilst the introduction of new rules after the Hillsborough disaster were, of course, understandable, new advances in technology and safety procedures means that the blanket ban on standing is no longer necessary. Safe standing has long been an open goal for the Government – and it is right that it is finally treating football fans like adults, allowing them to enjoy their favourite game in the atmosphere enjoyed by their European counterparts.
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