There was a time when thousands of fans stood in spectator areas with no seats for every English football match. But after fans were crushed in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, standing areas were banned as unsafe.
Still, many fans nostalgia for the days of standing. And now, after many years, England’s two best football leagues are once again allowed to add standings, with guarantees, the safety authority for sports groundsThis was announced by a government advisory board on Wednesday.
In the past, standing fans were placed in sloping concrete spaces. At matches, there were often more fans than seated.
It was a cheaper way to see the game, and the proximity of fellow enthusiasts often made for a great atmosphere. But the areas got rowdy at times, and especially after a goal, crowds of fans could knock people over.
During the height of hooliganism in the 1970s and 1980s, fights sometimes broke out between rival groups of fans. This led teams to erect fences to separate standing fans from their rivals, and sometimes from the field.
That fencing contributed greatly to the Hillsborough disaster, when nearly 100 Liverpool fans were crushed on a crowded terrace at an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield.
While standing was not the direct cause of the disaster – poor police work according to investigations – the government nevertheless banned standing at competitions and insisted that every spectator have a seat.
But for 30 years, many fans carry a torch to stand at matches. They said they missed the atmosphere and that standing could be organized more safely than in its heyday. They also noted that many fans stayed by their seats for much of the games anyway.
While it has taken decades to address the issue, standing advocates have built momentum and recently approval seemed imminent. Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which opened in 2019, has been designed with two areas that could quickly be converted into so-called safe standing areas if allowed.
Teams in the top two divisions can now apply to start standings in January. But those areas will look very different from the open concrete slopes of yesteryear.
First, there will be seats that fold up so fans can choose to sit down if they want. No more than one fan per seat is allowed in the area, to avoid the tightly packed crowds often seen last century.
In addition, metal rails are placed between each row. Fans can lean on them, and they’ll also help keep people in their own rows, avoiding excited forward waves of humanity that could be dangerous.
Safe standing has been successfully implemented elsewhere in the world. Germany’s top stadiums contain thousands of places for standers. Orlando City, LAFC and Minnesota are among the safe standing MLS teams. In Great Britain, Celtic of Glasgow started allowing a few thousand standees in the 2016-17 season.
“We are extremely excited to finally claim a win for the FSA’s Safe Standing campaign,” said Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, a fan advocacy group. in a statement on Wednesday. “Today’s announcement is the result of long and persistent campaigns by football fans.”
Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal’s chief executive, said on Wednesday the club will talk to fans about adding standing spaces next week. “It’s something we’re looking at,” he said. “We have to see what the possible consequences will be, such as reducing capacity. But we will listen to what our fans say and explore what we can do.”
Tariq Panja contributed reporting from London.