One premier league and several championship clubs have given their backing to a campaign for the re-introduction of ‘standing’ facilities at football matches. Added to this, around fifty MP’s have signed an early day motion calling for a ‘trial’ of standing sections.
Many other are strongly opposed to any return to standing at 1st and 2nd tier football stadiums, not least the Hillsborough families. The disaster of 1989 was not the first occasion that fans had been crushed at Hillsborough. In a 1981 FA Cup semi-final 38 Spurs fans were injured after being crushed - and similar events took place in 1987 and again in 1988.
I feel that the re-introduction of standing at matches will lead to a return to the bad old days of football. Issues of overcrowding and crushing aside, I would be concerned about the return of violence that tainted the game so badly in the 1980’s, a return of plummeting attendances, and ‘no go’ areas.
Whilst proponents of ‘standing’ readily quote the health and safety record of the Bundesliga which has ‘standing’ facilities, they do not mention the rise of hooliganism.
The promises of robust and modern day crowd control techniques, and policies and procedures are all well and good, however, I am sure that the footballing authorities would have claimed that similar systems were in place prior to the Hillsborough disaster.
The game and wider fan culture has changed immeasurably since the Hillsborough disaster and the Taylor report. Many clubs and stadiums are much more family friendly environments than they once were. I vividly remember going to many matches in the mid to late 1980’s with my father, and whilst it was exciting to go and see my hero’s in the flesh, it was also terrifying. I certainly would never take a child into such an environment.
Part of me believes that there is a certain amount of rose tinted lenses being peered through over this issue. I have spoken to several people about a return to standing, and the stock responses are generally tales of ‘the good old days’, and how great the atmosphere used to be. Although some of those who make these claims have never been to a football match that has had standing facilities, and are just re-stating what they have heard from those that have.
I do not believe that the use of a small ‘trial’ and the hand-picked fans that will participate in them will achieve anything other than give those who want a return to standing all the evidence they need for its safe use. A small and false situation that will be heavily managed by stewards and police proves nothing.
For many, apart from the cost, going to a football match is a much safer, inclusive, and enjoyable experience than it was 25 years ago. The cultures and problems exacerbated by old fashioned stadiums have been largely eradicated.
Those who say that football has changed for the good and use it as a justification for bringing back ‘standing’, are missing the point as to why and how it has changed. A return to standing will be like square pegs and round holes.