Officially, english professional football stadiums are pure seats, according to the law. Nevertheless, there are many fans in the Premier League week after week, as they did on this 27th day of play. Not only briefly to the cheer ingstle or say goodbye to a passing player, but more than 90 minutes. Guest fans are mainly in England, and also for home fans there is a kind of mood block in many stadiums in which no one sits.
Soon, the position could be officially authorized again. Because the fact that fans are not sitting in their seats, but standing, carries risks. “Every weekend you see pictures of fans standing falling on several rows of seats during goal cheering. There are broken arms and legs. Why not try to prevent this as a club?” Jon Darch says SPIEGEL.
The 61-year-old Englishman is halfway to Berlin and is a member and holder of a season ticket with the Bundesliga Union. But most of all, he’s a standing activist. In his British homeland, Darch promoted the introduction of a system that provided for the return of standing places in English stadiums: Safe Standing. This refers to the railings with the folding seat, which are known from many Bundesliga stadiums, for example up to the belly.
Supporters argue that this variant is safer for fans who would stand anyway than the shell seats, which often reach at most the shin, which can lead to falls. For a long time, they argued in vain.
The debate in the Standing House in England is conducted emotionally, sometimes even irrationally. This is due to the trauma that triggered the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. There was tragedy during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium. Hundreds of fans crowded the already crowded stand of Liverpool fans, from where there was no escape for them: more and more people sank inside the outside, the fences in the stadium prevented an escape on the pitch. 96 people died, most of them under the age of 30.
Hillsborough was the result of the bid for seats in top English football. By law, clubs were obliged to provide pure seating stadiums. However, it doesn’t force the fans to watch the game really sitting down. In English professional football, standing permanently is generally only contrary to stadium rules. However, many clubs now tolerate that this is constantly ignored in some areas.
Trial in Manchester?
The Stadium Safety Authority in England now sees that Safe Standing would be safer. He reached this conclusion in a preliminary investigation report in early February. The ruling Conservative Party has pledged to introduce standing places during last year’s election campaign. And Manchester United have just asked local authorities for permission to hold a test run with standing places at Old Trafford this season. All this leads Darch to conclude that the return of standing places in England is “extremely close”: “The question is whether it is ready in time for next season or only for the following season.”
Since many fans are standing anyway, it is safer to officially reintroduce standing places – this view is now hardly contradicted in England. Even around Liverpool FC, the mood seems to have changed. For fans of coach Jurgen Klopp’s club, the standing room debate is closely linked to the Hillsborough disaster. Although standing places were not the cause of the tragedy, Liverpool had long felt betrayed by the dead, even thinking of a return to the standing place. Many relatives of the victims are still opposed. Any change to the current order is a step in the wrong direction, as the Hillsborough Family Support Group has argued several times in recent years.
“No one can say it’s not safe”
However, this seems to be only a minority opinion among Liverpool fans. In a July 2017 survey conducted by the Spirit of Shankly fan group, 88% of participants supported the introduction of Safe Standing. Darch, a standing room lawyer, believes that many misunderstandings have now been resolved. “When fans said they wanted standing places back, many politicians, clubs and the media long thought it would be on the fragile standing of the 1970s. But with the new model, no one can say it’s not safe,” he says.
How Safe Standing works can be seen by the English in Scotland, where seat stadiums only are not required by law. Celtic FC has been operating a 2,600-seat stand at celtic park since 2016. In the English Premier League there are two venues that are already equipped with Safe Standing, as a precautionary measure, so to speak – namely the Molineux of Wolverhampton Wanderers and the new stadium of Tottenham Hotspur.
Only official status should not be allowed. Not yet.