This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.
1. What is ‘safe standing’? 2. Who wants safe standing? 3. What are the benefits of safe standing? 4. Is it really safe? 5. The legalities – what has to change? 6. Myths and misconceptions 7. Aims and objectives
1. What is ‘safe standing’?
Safe standing refers to specific models of modern standing accommodation such as those permitted in Germany, Sweden, and Austria as well as standing technologies deemed to be safe for matches in League One and below by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published Green Guide.
Where clubs have a realistic opportunity of European competition, the ‘rail seat’ model is usually most appropriate. Rail seats allow entire stands (or sections of a stand) to be easily converted from standing to seating and back again whenever required at no cost.
Rail seats incorporate a safety barrier and a flip-down seat on every other row (or step). These seats can be locked in an upright position for domestic games, allowing two rows of supporters to stand in between barriers. Supporters can thus be given a designated ‘seat’ (or standing plot) but watch the game while standing. With only two rows of fan per barrier there is no danger of a crush or progressive crowd collapse, and this technology facilitates the inclusion of up to 80% more supporters than a seated area of similar size.
Rail seats are not the only type of safe standing area – other designs are used throughout Europe too. VfL Bochum use ‘clip-on seats’ (safety barriers clipped into place every few rows which can be replaced with seats) while Hamburg SV use ‘foldaway seats’ in some areas of the ground (each seat is stored under a metal step and can be folded out).
What safe standing isn’t!
Safe standing areas are not a ‘return to the terraces of the 1980s’ and it is factually incorrect to highlight stories relating to safe standing with images of terraces from past decades (see the link below for free, high resolution images of safe standing areas).
‘Old style’ football terraces were typically characterised by large concourses and vestibules leading onto the back of massive terrace with little to stop the forward movement of fans and fences at the bottom. No football fans are suggesting a return to these arrangements.
Below left – Rail seats in Klagenfurt (Austria). Below right – Bob Symns (chief executive, Peterborough United – middle row, centre) and representatives of Peterborough City Council with Jon Darch (Safe Standing Roadshow) and Hannover 96 staff among rail seats in the AWD Arena (Germany).
2. Who wants safe standing?
Supporter surveys regularly show that upwards of eight out of every ten fans back the choice to sit or stand at football. Choice is a key word here as no one is suggesting all fans should have to stand, rather that those who would like to so should be able to do so in safety.
The FSF’s National Supporter Survey 2009 asked: “Do you think supporters should have the choice of sitting or standing, including having areas specifically designed for safe standing.” 89.8 per cent of 5,470 respondents answered ‘Yes’. More than half (50.2 per cent) of 5,503 respondents said they preferred to stand. By 2012’s FSF National Supporter Survey this had risen to 92 per cent.
Support for safe standing among female fans is also very strong. 82 per cent of female fans think there should be a choice to sit or stand at football while 29.7 per cent would prefer to stand. (FSF National Supporter Survey 2009).
In April 2010 The Guardian asked: “Don Foster, the liberal democrat spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport, has suggested providing safe standing areas in football stadiums. Is this a sensible proposal?” 92.4% of respondents said ‘Yes’.
In March 2011 The Guardian asked: “Would you like to see terracing return? The Guardian has revealed that the government will listen to the case for reintroducing terracing almost 22 years after the Hillsborough disaster. Would you like to be able to stand at top-level games again?” 76.4% said ‘Yes’.
In October 2011 a Daily Star Sunday survey found that: “66.3% of football fans would support a return to standing. Only 17.3% opposed it, with the rest undecided. And if seats were ripped out, 73.5% would consider standing at games.”
In November 2011 Talksport asked: “Should we have safe standing zones in football stadia?” 91% said ‘Yes’.
The Scottish Premier League has signalled its intention to trial safe standing areas – Celtic and Rangers are two of the move’s biggest supporters. Glasgow City Council has backed the Old Firm plans. (Daily Record, ‘Council backs Old Firm plans for terraces but Tartan Army get the bums rush’, 18th January 2012)
3. What are the benefits of safe standing?
The FSF’s National Supporter Survey 2009 asked: “What is the single most important reason you like to stand at matches?” 71.6 per cent of 4,287 cited ‘Better atmosphere’. Supporters have very real fears about the atmospheres at games going stale and feel safe standing offers a solution.
Three out of every four fans who prefer to stand at games have been told/asked to sit by a steward or police officer (FSF National Supporter Survey 2009).
Standing in seated areas is a continuing source of friction between the fans and the authorities, particularly at away games. We regularly hear stories about fans ejected for persistent standing in seated areas. Introduce safe standing areas and this public order problem disappears.
The Taylor Report, commissioned in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 and published in January 1990, suggested that fans would get used to sitting down. More than two decades on, this is clearly not the case in practise. Many fans stand week-in, week-out in areas designed for sitting. We believe this is less safe than standing in modern areas properly designed for the job.
This isn’t just about those who prefer to stand. By giving supporters the choice, everyone benefits. Those who wish to stand can do so, while those who prefer to sit no longer have to worry about their view being blocked. No one should be forced to stand – although ironically many are forced to do just that because of the current all-seater rule. The FSF is regularly contacted by fans in this position.
Because standing areas typically accommodate a higher density of supporters, ticket prices are typically lower than in seated areas. As a result stadiums containing standing areas tend to be more socially inclusive and benefit from greater elasticity in pricing. For example, season tickets in standing areas at Bayern Munich start at €180 (£150) and are far more affordable to young fans. Comparable English clubs include Manchester United (cheapest season ticket £532), Liverpool (£725), and Arsenal (£951). The average Premier League season ticket holder is white, male, and in his 40s.
At some grounds standing terraces have been converted into seated areas. This accommodation can be cramped and taller supporters often struggle to sit down comfortably. Shallow rakes can also make for poor sightlines while even Lord Taylor noted that sitting in an uncovered terrace is far more unpleasant than standing in one on a dank day. Yet uncovered seated terraces exist to this day.
Travelling fans add immeasurably to the spectacle of football as a live sport. A passionate away following encourages home fans to raise their game to help their team. Yet some of the country’s largest away supports are seeing their ticket allocations cut on a regular basis. Safety Advisory Groups can (and do) cut the number of tickets offered to the visiting side as punishment for persistent standing. This is damaging the atmosphere of our sport and encourages away fans to procure pockets of tickets in home areas, greatly increasing risk of disorder.
4. Is it really safe?
Supporters of Safe Standing do not propose that the stringent safety standards laid down in the DCMS’s Green Guide be abolished or weakened. We do think that supporters of Premier League or Championship clubs should be allowed the choice to stand in safety, in exactly the same way that fans of other divisions are – the idea that safety depends upon the quality of football played on the pitch is self-evidently absurd.
There is now general agreement from the Government and other public bodies that the statistics do not show seated areas to be safer than standing areas.
The Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA, formerly the Football Licensing Authority, or FLA) collects statistics on numbers and types of injuries at each ground in England and Wales. Injury rates are very low in both all-seated stadia and those that contain standing and information is not recorded about where in the ground injuries occur (seats, standing area, concourse etc).
Safe standing areas have not proved to be a safety risk in Austria, Canada, Germany, Sweden and the USA, countries that treat safety with the same respect as the UK.
The Hillsborough disaster was not caused by standing – see Myths and misconceptions (below) for more.
5. The legalities – what has to change?
It is unclear whether a change in the law is required to introduce rail-seated safe standing areas into the Premier League or Championship. Many fans believe ‘persistent standing’ is illegal but this is not the case. The law only dictates that clubs should provide seats for all supporters, not that supporters must sit on them. The point is confirmed by the DCMS: “At no point has it been argued that the individual spectator commits a criminal offence by standing in a seated area.” (Letter to the FSF, 2008).
Standing in a seated area is, however, contrary to ground regulations in the Premier League and Championship and thus a breach of civil law (i.e. the contract between a customer/business or in this case fan/club) rather than criminal law which is an offence against the state (i.e. an ‘illegal’ act). These ground regulations can be changed by the clubs themselves – in the Premier League a majority of 14 clubs (from 20) is needed to implement such a change.
As standing is a civil matter, it is up to individual clubs, not the police, to manage. Some clubs turn a blind eye to standing in seated areas whereas others are very strict in attempting to eject people who stand. This can cause public order issues as fans become frustrated with these inconsistencies and little evidence exists to show that this approach works. (See FSF website, ‘Bluebirds walk out in show of solidarity, 2nd November 2011’).
The situation is different in relation to accommodation solely designed for standing (no seats are provided) or rail seated areas with higher density safe standing (between 1 and 1.8 standing fans for every 1 seat, as allowed in the Government’s Green Guide).
The Football Spectators Act (1989) says that the Secretary of State may direct the FLA to make an all-seated stadium a condition of the license required to hold a Premier League or Championship match. As the FLA is permitted to consult with the Secretary of State (DCMS) the all-seater requirement could be relaxed without the need for new legislation.
Safety Advisory Groups (SAGs) at local councils do have the power to cut ticket allocations or (in extreme circumstances) to refuse safety certificates and prevent games going ahead altogether. The trigger for this can be persistent standing in seated areas. However, SAGs take their lead from the Secretary of State/FLA – if they were to give the go-ahead to safe standing areas local SAGs would not object.
6. Myths and misconceptions
Myth – “Standing areas are unsafe/less safe than seated ones.” Not true.
Safe standing works within the parameters of the Green Guide, the test for whether or not an area is safe in this country. The Hillsborough disaster was not caused by standing. The UK Government and other public bodies no longer claim that standing is inherently less safe than sitting. There is now general agreement that the statistical analysis provided by the SGSA (see section 4 above) is not detailed enough to reach the conclusion that sitting is safer.
Myth: “There’s no appetite from fans for standing areas/It is unfair on those supporters who prefer to sit.” Not true.
Every week thousands upon thousands of fans stand in front of their seats for the duration of the game while following the team they love – attempts by the authorities to end this practice have failed. Surveys regularly show the vast majority of supporters back the choice to stand or sit. This is not just about those who prefer to stand. By giving supporters the choice, everyone benefits. Those who wish to stand can do so, while those who prefer to sit no longer have to worry about having their view blocked.
Myth: “The risk of hooliganism – crowd behaviour is more difficult to manage in standing areas.”Not true.
This argument is entirely speculative, anecdotal, and the FSF strongly disputes it. The Green Guide shows that standing can and does provide a safe and controlled environment for fans to stand every week at football matches up and down the country in League One, League Two, and beyond. Match-going fans know that much tension at football stems from the efforts of stewards to force fans to sit down, creating an ‘us against them’ mentality.
Myth: “Access for paramedics or police is hindered by safe standing, and standing poses a crowd control risk.” Not true.
It is possible to identify a person using CCTV/ticket information regardless of whether they are standing or sitting. At many games, particularly away from home where the greatest risk of disorder exists, fans do not sit in designated seats. The larger clearways associated with standing areas actually make access easier for police and/or emergency services. Privately many Safety Advisory Groups (the council-formed bodies which police football’s safety legislation) have told the FSF that safe standing areas would make their lives easier.
Myth: “Designs used in Germany would, in the UK, require substantial investment by clubs or even rebuilding of entire stands.”Issues around cost and feasibility should be a matter for individual clubs, not politicians.
Football clubs are businesses and should be allowed to spend money as they see fit. We think there’s a demand from fans (or customers, if you will) for safe standing areas, the business case for their introduction is compelling, and it should be a matter for individual clubs rather than government to decide.
Legislation to restrict standing in England & Wales was banned because it was perceived to be unsafe in the wake of Hillsborough. If technology has advanced and there is no evidence that standing is less safe, this should be the only reason necessary to review the law on standing. David Cameron thinks business red tape should be cut and, when it comes to safe standing, we agree.
Since the Government last reviewed the laws on standing in 2001 many brand new stadiums have cropped up around the country which could quite easily (and cheaply) have accommodated areas of rail seats. The greater density of supporter accommodation these models afford, combined with the cumulative non-ticket spend (i.e. more pies, pints, and programmes sold), means that after the initial outlay Safe Standing technologies can rapidly increase revenue for clubs and reduce ticked prices for fans.
Myth: “Clubs who have built new grounds lower down the leagues have chosen not to incorporate safe standing areas.”Misleading and not always true.
Many lower-league clubs became all-seated as a result of receiving funding from the Football Foundation, which stipulates all-seated stadiums as a condition of their financial assistance. It is misleading to suggest that clubs have chosen this route because they believe sitting is a better model than standing. Morecambe FC recently elected to forego Football Foundation money to retain standing areas.
Myth: “FIFA/UEFA won’t allow it.” Not true.
Regulations state that UEFA’s European competitions (and FIFA’s World Cup) must be played in all-seated stadiums. Rail seats can be converted to and from seating, so this is not an obstacle to clubs providing standing accommodation for domestic games or all-seated accommodation when required. Many German clubs do this and the 2006 World Cup was played at stadiums which provide standing accommodation for domestic games.
7. Aims and objectives
The FSF’s Safe Standing Campaign is supported by Aston Villa, Peterborough United, the Safe Standing Roadshow and Stand Up Sit Down.
It aims to persuade the Government, football authorities and football clubs to accept the case for introducing, on a trial basis, limited sections of standing areas at selected grounds in the stadiums of Premier League and Championship football clubs.
The FSF is the national supporters’ organisation for all football fans and represents more than 200,000 individual fans and affiliate members, such as supporters’ clubs, throughout England and Wales.
As the safe standing campaign has progressed over recent years more and more spurious arguments have emerged about why it can’t happen in England – one example is that safe standing will exclude disabled supporters. Here former FSF national council member, and wheelchair-using Arsenal fan, Steve Powell tells us why the Orlando City Stadium debunks that myth…