Stand Up if You Love to Stand

The idea of standing at Premier League games is once more in the news. Dave Woodhall argues the case for.

Aston VIlla Holte End. Photo: Steve Beauchampe

Aston VIlla Holte End. Photo: Steve Beauchampe

Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner yesterday backed the idea that supporters may once more be able to stand at Villa Park, 18 years after the iconic Holte End terrace was closed following the Taylor report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

Talking to the Birmingham Mail, Faulkner revealed that the club have been in discussions with the Football Supporters Federation and that the idea of safe standing received unanimous backing during a meeting of Villa’s Supporters Consultation group at the weekend.

The move follows recent news that the Scottish Premier League have said they would be amenable to the idea of safe standing at their grounds and after several years in which the concept of supporters being forced to sit during matches has grown increasingly unpopular and unworkable.

At present it is not compulsory to have all-seater stadia in the areas covered by the Taylor Report (currently the Premier League and Championship); the only requirement is that the Secretary of State can order the relevant licensing authority to force grounds to impose such requirements.  In particular, there isn’t any law forbidding standing in a seated area. Indeed, the government body responsible stated in a letter to the Football Supporters Federation in 2008 that “At no point has it been argued that the individual spectator commits a criminal offence by standing in a seated area.”

The practicalities of imposing these regulations are even more absurd. Most people will stand up in response to what’s happening during the game, and some try to do so more often. Some grounds are notoriously strict on enforcing sitting down while others have a more common sense approach to the situation.

In 1990 the Taylor Report said that within a few years supporters would be used to sitting down. It also said that it should be possible to plan “a price structure which suits the cheapest seats to the pockets of those presently paying to stand.” Both these statements have proved hopelessly optimistic.

The arguments against the re-introduction of standing have been put forward ever since its abolition in the top divisions, and have been refuted every time. Terraces did not cause the Hillsborough disaster – fences and bad policing did. They are no more dangerous than seats.

When challenged, the Football Licensing Authority admitted “the injury statistics we produce do not provide firm statistical evidence that standing is less safe than seating.” Even back in 1989, the Technical Working Party of the Taylor Report found that “standing accommodation is not intrinsically unsafe.”

You don’t HAVE to stand if you don’t want to. But if you do want to watch football and stand, technology has changed from the days when thousands used to pack the Holte, South Bank, Tilton and Brummie Road. Those days are gone and few would want them back. Their modern equivalents can be seen in Germany, for example at the Westfalenstadion, home of Borussia Dortmund, where over 24,000 supporters regularly stand safely in a ground with a capacity of 80,720. Such areas comprise ‘vario’ seats, with rails spaced together allowing one or two rows of spectators to stand between them. The rails have flip-up seats which are locked upright for games where supporters can stand, and locked down for those when standing is still forbidden. Prices are also around a quarter of the average in the Premier League.

Faulkner added that an area of Villa Park has already been earmarked for a trial of safe standing should current regulations be relaxed, and that the club welcomes a full debate on the matter. Villa’s common sense approach is to be welcomed, and copied.

It may lead to criticism from the uninformed and hysterical, but such a trial is long overdue. The current situation of an unenforceable rule and inconvenienced supporters is doing no good to anyone.